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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

April 4, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I always cringe when I hear the phrase “male role model.” I do so because it’s so often been used to suggest that actual fathers aren’t important to their children. It’s the thoroughly debunked notion that fathers are replaceable by some other man, any other man. One’s as good as another, don’t you know. To the extent that notion gains traction, it undermines every father’s efforts to establish and maintain a meaningful relationship with his children. The simple truth is that fathers are irreplaceable. Everything else – adoptive parents, foster parents, stepparents – is, on average, a distant second best. Public policy needs to focus on keeping biological dads in their kids’ lives.

So it was with some distress that I read Terry Brennan’s latest piece (Daily Caller, 4/2/18). Now, as I’ve said before, Brennan didn’t just fall off the turnip truck when it comes to public policy issues affecting men, fathers and children. He’s one of the most knowledgeable people around and his article is basically sound. We have plenty of kids without fathers and that’s not going to change any time soon. About one-third of the kids of divorce have little or no contact with their father.

That presents the question of what to do. It’s been said before that a child can come into the world and reach college age without a single significant man in his/her life. No father, no teacher, no coach.

Male primary school teachers have become an endangered species. While pre-school and kindergarten gender disparities are worst, where women comprise 97.7 percent of teachers, elementary and middle schools aren’t significantly different. Between 1987 and 2012, the percentage of male teachers declined in every measured period, falling to 23.7% of all teachers.

Short of re-engaging fathers with those kids, they need – the dreaded term – male role models. Hey, something’s better than nothing. There are movements afoot to provide them.

Programs like “Watch D.O.G.S.” (Dads of Great Students) and Strong Fathers Strong Families create positive educational engagement with fathers. Chrystal Wilkie, of Minnesota Valley Action Council’s Head Start, learned:

“The Strong Fathers Curriculum has made our staff more aware of involving and engaging the dads or other male figures in our everyday programing, i.e. conferences, newsletters, health requirements, family days, policy council, parent meetings and volunteering in the classroom.”

More “involving and engaging” dads is a move in the right direction.

Almost 6,500 schools have started Watch D.O.G.S. programs and Strong Fathers Strong Families has conducted 5,000 engagements. While impressive, considering there are 90,000 elementary schools in the US, there’s a long way to go.

Meanwhile, fathers themselves seem hungry to provide to other children what they provide to their own.

When fathers are welcomed, amazing things happen. A Dallas middle school hoped 50 dads volunteer for a breakfast with fatherless kids. So many responded the schools website crashed and 600 finally attended. Shelby Traditional Academy instituted a “Flash Dads” program for students without male role models. A day after a shooting at a nearby school, Dads lined the hallways giving students high-fives as they entered. They likely felt very safe.

Of course there are many reasons why men and fathers aren’t involved in schools, either as teachers or as auxiliaries. Over four decades, we’ve so demonized men that even the presence of a man at a primary school can bring anything from suspicious glances to allegations of child abuse. Several years ago it was reported that 19% of male primary school teachers in Canada had been falsely accused of some form of child abuse. For many men, that’s simply too great a risk to take.

Plus, teaching in public schools doesn’t pay very well. For all our talk about gender equality, vastly more women than men opt for lower-paying jobs, work less and tend to drop out of the workforce altogether when children come along. That places the main burden of earning a family’s living squarely where it’s always been – on Dad. And Dad’s sense of what it means to be a man, a father, a husband and a provider still militates in favor of his getting the highest-paying job he can find. Typically, that’s not teaching elementary school kids.

It’s not like that’s likely to change any time soon. Traditional sex roles have proven hard to break down, despite decades of trying. Men still tend to see themselves as providers first and women see themselves as mothers. There are of course countless exceptions, but voluminous data from, for example, the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development demonstrate the strong hold those roles have on both men and women. And the American Enterprise Institute produced a survey of college degrees that bring the highest salaries. Of those, men far outnumbered women in nine of the top 10, 19 of the top 20 and 26 of the top 30 college majors. That’s true despite the fact that women far outnumber men on campus.

So the notion that men will soon start flocking to jobs in primary education looks dubious at best.

Still, Brennan’s right to exhort schools to do more to involve fathers and father figures to take part in students’ lives. It’s far from the ideal solution to the problem of fatherlessness, but we shouldn’t allow the ideal to become the enemy of the possible. Again, something’s better than nothing.

#fathers, #malerolemodels, #schools

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