I came across an editorial in The Detroit News, addressing the appalling fact that city schools graduate less than 22 percent of Detroit's boys. This is why, the authors conclude, there has been an epidemic of crime by young males in Detroit, because the schools are failing them.
My wife taught for several years in Detroit's public schools, and it's hard to imagine a more corrupt, jaded, morally and intellectually bankrupt system. At the same time, it's shortsighted to blame the implosion of inner-city civil society on schools. A better place to start would be with the reality that a vast majority of children born in our largest cities have no father in the home.
Boys need fathers, or men who can serve as role-models. Detroit has very few of either. Go to Detroit, stand up in a school board meeting, and state those two facts, and see what it gets you. It's much easier to blame a faceless government entity. There isn't enough money. Classrooms are too big. [Insert your favorite argument for ignoring common sense in favor of government growth here]. We've heard it all before.
When will public officials and opinion leaders have the courage to address a fundamental root cause of this crisis in inner cities, which is the abject failure of most males to behave like real men? When will we turn a harsh eye on the pathetic performance of so many urban churches in this regard, many of which favor preaching a Health and Wealth fantasy, rather than the plain truth that men who do not support their children are less than men, and accursed, and in dire need of a beating? There was a time when The Detroit News editors would have had such courage, but perhaps no more.
Meanwhile, each year sees a new cohort of young thugs hit the streets, to destroy what remains of the local legal economy, and to inseminate the next generation of single mothers. But by all means, let's keep telling ourselves that computers and after-school programs will end this shameful cycle. At least then we won't hurt anyone's feelings.
You can often discern what Isaac is thinking, even if he doesn't tell you. When he wants to make trouble, his lips are pulled thin and the tip of his tongue shows through his teeth. When he is irritated, his eyebrows push together and he squints like a little cross-eyed thug. Plus there's usually some hitting involved. When he's happy, he grabs hold of the closest person and squeezes tight, making an MMM MMM MMMNNHH sound.
Sometimes what's on his mind seeps out in subtler ways. Saturday he asked me if I like vegetables. "Yes," I said, with more exuberance than is perhaps warranted. "Me too," he said. "What's a vegetable?"
"Well," I said, "there's green beans, and peas, and carrots, and . . ."
"And hot dogs," he chimed in. "Mmmmm, I like hot dogs. They are yummy for me."
Later we were all in the minivan, on our way to do an errand. Caleb sat in the back, working a crossword puzzle. "Mom," he asked, "what was Abraham's wife's name?" Notice how he asked his mother. If you think you're smart, or that you're in charge, just observe to whom your children direct their questions. It might be illuminating. And humbling.
"Sarah," the Wife said, after a series of clues proved fruitless.
"Mmmm," Isaac said, "I like cereal." Sarah. Cereal. I suppose they have a similar sound.
The conversation turned to Eli's violin practice. One of his exercises is something his teacher calls a "tucka tucka stop stop," which is four half notes followed by two quarter notes. "Do da taco taco stop stop Eli," Isaac directed him.
That evening we had hot dogs and French fries and baked beans for dinner. When he saw the spread, Isaac's face took on the same look he wore on Christmas Day. Wouldn't it be nice if all of us were so easily satisfied?