Parts I and II of this series focused on the way single fathers tend to be an invisible demographic within education and how educators can take the lead in reaching out to them. Yesterday’s post ended with a 2012 Father’s Day story NPR shared last weekend about Bowdoin College graduate Will Smith, a single father (15 June, 2012). In 1996 when Smith finished his tour of duty in the Navy, he worked his way through college and walked across the stage at graduation with his daughter Olivia. Both of their names were called (15 June, 2012).
The NPR piece ends with the following father/daughter exchange:
“I really admire your strength,” his daughter says. “And I love you.”
“I draw my strength from you,” Will answers. “I always have, and I still do.” (qtd. in NPR, 15 June, 2012).
When it comes to education, this exchange reflects the somewhat symbiotic relationship that parents and children often have. Wanting to provide a better life for their children is often cited as the reason non-traditional students return to school, for example, and parents tend to encourage their own children to graduate from college. Therefore, educators should also be supportive of single fathers like Will Smith who are setting this good example for their children. Studies also show the positive effects a father’s influence can have on the well-being and education of their children.
Although there is a tendency to marginalize the role of fathers in children’s lives, the exact opposite is true. Studies over the last few decades consistently show the importance of fathers for the well-being of their children. The statistics for children from fatherless homes are astounding:
• Boys raised in communities where fatherlessness dominates are three times as likely to engage in criminal activity.
• 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
• 72% of adolescent murders are committed by children from absent father homes.
• 70-85% of young people in state prisons grew up without a father’s presence.
• Children who grow up without regular contact with their fathers are more likely to suffer from mental or behavioral issues.
• They are also more likely to display violent, aggressive, and criminal behavior.
• And they are more likely to suffer from addictions, especially drug and alcohol abuse.
• 38.4% of children who grew up in fatherless homes live in poverty, and they are 54% more likely to be poorer than their absent father.
Most educators are probably aware of the above statistics; however, some will try to distance themselves from these social issues as education can not be the panacea for all social ills. Whether or not we like it, these issues enter into our classrooms, affecting student success on a daily basis. Therefore, we must be concerned.
More specifically, in terms of academic success, paternal involvement is needed. Children without an involved father are:
• 70% of high school dropouts.
• Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled.
• More likely to have lowered educational expectations, supervision, scores on standardized tests, and grades.
In contrast, with father involvement, students are more likely to earn mostly As in K12 education.
Although there does not appear to be any conclusive evidence showing a direct link between the postsecondary educational achievement of parents and that of their children, the above statistics certainly indicate that at least in terms of preparedness for college, the father’s role should not be neglected.
One myth that permeates a discussion of the role of fatherhood in education is that fathers choose not to be involved. On the contrary, a recent Fatherhood Institute study showed that when work hours are taken into consideration, participation in school and education-related events is equal between fathers and mothers. Additionally, 81% of fathers expressed the desire to be more involved in their children’s education (15 December, 2010). This is where educators must take action.
Here are some suggestions for enabling fathers, especially single fathers, to participate more in their children’s education:
• Given that work hours are the greatest cause of interference to fathers participating in school activities, educators should work to invite fathers to assist in a variety of activities throughout the day as well as evenings and weekends. The Fatherhood Institute offers some ways this has been done successfully.
• Communicate with single fathers. Given that about one-half of all marriages end in divorce and that fathers are rarely awarded any custody (10% sole custody for fathers, 70% sole custody for mothers, and 20% joint custody), schools need to end the practice of sending newsletters, etc. only to the mother’s house where the father will most likely not see them. Rather, send mailings to both houses and whenever personal academic progress isn’t involved, post a copy on the school’s website for anyone who is interested to download.
• Watch the word choice in parental communications; make sure it is non-sexist. ‘Single parents,’ ‘room parents,’ etc. should be used instead of just ‘single mothers’ or ‘room mothers.’ [Note: I was a room parent for 11 years (1998-2009) at an elementary school my kids attended; yet, every note sent about our role was addressed to “room mothers” in spite of suggestions that this be corrected. There were fathers who would have been involved, but they thought only mothers were being invited.]
• Make fathers feel welcome and comfortable by treating them with respect instead of like criminals. Programs like the PTA’s “Fathers Being Involved” that uses the acronym F.B.I. and a wanted poster format does not make fathers feel welcome. Refusing to respond to fathers who ask questions about their child’s academic progress or asking them if they are supposed/allowed to pick up their own children from school or school-related events even when they are listed as the pick-up parent is also not very welcoming.
In addition to supporting single fathers seeking to better their lives through education as we have done for single mothers over the last couple of decades, we also must do so for the sake of their children. The success of single fathers is directly related to the success of their children. A large part of the solution to many of the social ills that interfere with academic success can clearly be enacted by allowing fathers to be more engaged in their children’s education.
I would welcome additional thoughts or ideas in the comments section below.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- Stop Ignoring Single Fathers in Education (Part I)
- Stop Ignoring Single Fathers in Education (Part II)
- Report Finds Single-Sex Education Ineffective, Furthers Gender Stereotypes
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