By Kruse Scholar Spencer Cahoon
One of the most valuable things I have learned as a Kruse Scholar for Communities of Excellence is to think about the root causes of issues in our communities. As we have seen in recent weeks, it is easy to blame our country’s tenuous position on the actions of political leaders, a troubling economy, and daunting world conflicts. These certainly can be contributing factors to the discord, fear, and disparities that our country is striving to overcome, yet, if we were to metaphorically swim upstream, are they truly the root cause?
Former First Lady Barbara P. Bush once said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens in your house.” To me, this quote speaks to the heart of our community issues. The root cause comes down to the stability and support of the families in our nation. The family is where children learn to say please and thank you, to always tell the truth, to practice tolerance, and to be confident in themselves. How do they learn this? From watching and modeling after their parents. And yet we are seeing the deterioration of families in our nation and the very real consequences that follow.
For example, approximately two-fifths of U.S. children experience dissolution in their parents’ union by the age of 15. In the case of non-marital births, estimates say that 56 percent of fathers will be living away from their child by his or her third birthday. Research shows that these patterns have a negative impact on children, specifically with regard to their well-being and school success. (Egalite, 2016).
So where does Communities of Excellence fit in? As part of the Community Excellence Builder, community members will come together to answer the question: “What are your community’s key characteristics?” A critical part of this process will be to prioritize building strong families as part of the community’s identity and mission. This will lay the foundation for creating a strategy that strengthens marriages, improves parent/child engagement, and empowers fathers and mothers.
Many communities in Colorado show what this can look like as they provide programs that help fathers be more involved in their children’s lives. For example, Colorado’s Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Initiative provides funding to faith and community-based organizations that provide father-specific training, such as parenting skills and healthy marriage/couples relationship training. Other programs like Empowering Dads and Be a Man! provide coaching on healthy communication and relationships, and these programs pair fathers with other dads who serve as advisors and role models (Lowenbach, 2015). These kinds of community initiatives can bolster families, increasing the likelihood that positive behavior is learned and modeled by children, and that the upcoming generations become upstanding contributors to their community.
Societies that focus on strengthening families will reap long-lasting benefits, including the stability and prosperity of becoming a community of excellence. Although there are many problems that demand our attention, I believe the words of President David O. McKay, former president of the LDS faith, when he said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” When we consider what it will take to regain peace and prosperity in the United States and to transform our communities into communities of excellence, may we begin by fortifying the basic building block of our nation- the family.
Egalite, A. J. (2016). How Family Background Influences Student Achievement. Education Next. Spring 2016. Vol. 16, No. 2
Lowenbach, J. R. (2015). Colorado Taking Steps to Empower Fathers. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. Retrieved from: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/pp.aspx?c=mtJSJ7MPIsE&b=5545445&printmode=1
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