“Nobody Gets Married Any More, Mister”

September 8th, 2011

An urban high school teacher in Connecticut talks about unwed motherhood, fatherlessness, and how it affects the kids in his classroom.

by Gerry Garibaldi

…Here’s my prediction: the money, the reforms, the gleaming porcelain, the hopeful rhetoric about saving our children—all of it will have a limited impact, at best, on most city schoolchildren. Urban teachers face an intractable problem, one that we cannot spend or even teach our way out of: teen pregnancy. This year, all of my favorite girls are pregnant, four in all, future unwed mothers every one. There will be no innovation in this quarter, no race to the top. Personal moral accountability is the electrified rail that no politician wants to touch…

…Connecticut is among the most generous of the states to out-of-wedlock mothers. Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments….In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock….

…Boys without fathers, like David, cultivate an overweening bravado to overcome a deeper sense of vulnerability and male confusion. They strut, swear, and swagger. There’s a he-man thing to getting a girl pregnant that marks you as an adult in the eyes of your equally unmoored peers….As for girls without fathers, they are often among my most disruptive students. You walk on eggshells with them….Their anger toward male authority can be lacerating. They view trips to the principal’s office like victory laps…..

 

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  1. Heidi
    September 9th, 2011 at 09:09 | #1

    “Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments….In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock….”

    What is the alternative? To let these young mothers and their children starve? If it hadn’t been for welfare, I never would have been able to provide for my child in her earliest years (nor could her father since he was merely 18 when she was born), and I wouldn’t have been able to get my college degree. Since I graduated from college, I have not been back on welfare. My daughter is now in college and has completely bucked the statistics for children born to teen parents. I also went to law school and became a lawyer, so I guess I have bucked the statistics as well. None of that would have been possible without welfare.

    So, if not welfare, what is the solution? Don’t just say marriage, because even we had been married, we would not have been able to support ourselves and our child when she was young. And don’t just say abstinence-only education, because that is exactly what was taught in my home and in my church. I didn’t get comprehensive sex education in school until I was already pregnant.

    Assuming that teenage motherhood will always occur (as it has since the beginning of time), what is the alternative to welfare for these children with children? I remember in 1994 (when I was the mother of a 1 year-old), Newt Gingrich suggested that we revive the idea of orphanages to solve the problems of teen parenting–a comment that radicalized me against him and his brand of conservatism and turned me into an advocate for low-income parents and their children. From my perspective, having survived intergenerational poverty and welfare assistance, the solution is education for low-income parents and living wage jobs to go to after the education is finished. Oh, and did I mention child care?

  2. Heidi
    September 9th, 2011 at 09:11 | #2

    Oh, and the so-called “vast array” of welfare benefits when I was on welfare was cash in the amount of $312.00 per month, food stamps in the amount of $160.00 per month, and health care coverage. I also remember receiving a small rent subsidy. I challenge those who believe that welfare is a desirable way of life for its recipients to survive on that paltry amount of resources.

  3. Roivas
    September 9th, 2011 at 11:58 | #3

    Something that’s helpful to remember is that in the ever changing pantheon of dog whistles, that urban has come to mean “brown people.”

    Poor brown people don’t deserve government money. That’s reserved for rich people on Wall Street.

  4. Heidi
    September 9th, 2011 at 14:41 | #4

    Ain’t THAT the truth Roivas!

  5. Leo
    September 9th, 2011 at 21:37 | #5

    Daniel P. Moynihan predicted this years ago and was vilified for it. He was hardly a tea-party member or a racist. He advocated for a guaranteed annual income for all. What he did note was that the collapse of the black family in the inner city would largely doom their prospects for success.

    See http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_3_black_family.html

    If the traditional family collapses, society won’t have enough money to solve the problems that will cause. The problem with bailing out Wall Street was a similar problem with moral hazard (lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequences).

  6. Ginny
    September 10th, 2011 at 00:47 | #6

    @Heidi

    Heidi,

    the so-called “vast array” of welfare benefits when I was on welfare was cash in the amount of $312.00 per month, food stamps in the amount of $160.00 per month, and health care coverage. I also remember receiving a small rent subsidy.

    The article sounds like welfare benefits have increased since then. Here is the whole list (which I originally did not include in the quoted excerpt):

    “Teenage girls like Nicole qualify for a vast array of welfare benefits from the state and federal governments: medical coverage when they become pregnant (called “Healthy Start”); later, medical insurance for the family (“Husky”); child care (“Care 4 Kids”); Section 8 housing subsidies; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; cash assistance. If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available. If that appointment is college-related, no sweat: education grants for single mothers are available, too. Nicole didn’t have to worry about finishing the school year; the state sent a $35-an-hour tutor directly to her home halfway into her final trimester and for six weeks after the baby arrived.”

    It is indeed a tough problem–we, as individuals and as a society, want to be generous and humane, providing a safety net for the most vulnerable (as the article says). But it seems that, in this teachers experience, our generous impulse has backfired. It doesn’t merely help girls who have found themselves in difficult circumstances; it encourages them to enter those circumstances.

    I challenge those who believe that welfare is a desirable way of life for its recipients to survive on that paltry amount of resources.

    I got the impression from the article that, as paltry as the benefits may be in actual terms, it is still a step up from the poverty these girls would be in if they had no diploma, no job, no husband, and also no child to bring the benefits in.

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