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Powell, Failing Families and The Fate of Cities

Chris Powell

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread ― Anatole France

Driving around Connecticut’s suburban back roads, one sees, every so often, a sign flashing under leafy shade trees: “Drive like your kid lives here.”

Were it possible to plant a similar sign in large Connecticut cities, where failing schools are winked at by always solicitous politicians, it might read “Educate these kids like they were yours.”

It may be time to bring out of the closet Chris Powell’s luminous perceptions concerning the connection of failing urban families and failing urban education. But, of course, in urban areas of Connecticut, one finds boxes in boxes in boxes of chronic problems, many of them connected to one foul root. Powell, now retired, was the long-time Mangaging Editor of the Journal Inquirer. He continues to write colunms for the JI and other papers. 

It has been 57 years since Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy in the Nixon administration and later, in 1976, US Senator from New York, warned in a much read and quickly shelved document, The Moynihan Report: the Negro Family, the Case for National Action, that “The gap between the Negro and most other groups in American society is widening. The fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure. The evidence — not final, but powerfully persuasive — is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling. A middle-class group has managed to save itself, but for vast numbers of the unskilled, poorly educated city working class the fabric of conventional social relationships has all but disintegrated.”

In the intervening 57 years, that gap has become an unbridgeable abyss. In every large city in Connecticut, crime is up, education is down, fatherless families are up, social anarchy is up – and politicians across the state, far from proposing workable solutions to urban social problems, seem by their silence to have amicably bid this ganglion of disruptive social problems a fond farewell. In law, silence signifies assent; in politics, silence signifies the presence of acceptable false solutions to enduring problems.

In some city churches, one may hear from the pulpits laments concerning the absence of fathers in households.  But in Connecticut’s General Assembly, silence signifies a general assent to the urban status quo – where fathers, more than a half century after Moynihan’s cautionary report,  have simply disappeared, replaced by solicitous welfare workers.    

Powell’s latest column, “Education disaster in Connecticut's cities is all child neglect by parents,” blasts   “New Haven's Board of Alders (aka the city council),” for having “spent much of its last meeting debating reading instruction techniques even as 58% of the city's public school students are classified as chronically absent.”

But there is an ironic beam of sunshine in every dark cloud: “At least the meeting produced admissions from Superintendent Ilene Tracy,” Powell tells us, “that for two years student mental health and ‘social-emotional learning’ have displaced academic instruction and that student behavior is now ‘atrocious.’”

For years, Powell has been shining a bright light into the dark recesses – and debilitating consequences – of a welfare state that rewards women relying on a crutch held out to them by a paternalistic state. The welfare state is paternalistic in the precise meaning of the word. It REPLACES the moral obligations of fathers and mothers with state welfare procedures.

Whatever you finance in this sorry world you will have more of. Welfare finances prolonged dependency and its attendant consequences through generations of householders: mothers without husbands, families without fathers; neglected African American young boys who prey upon each other and turn for personal affirmation to criminal gangs; honey-tongued cons who know how to beat the welfare system; schooling that does not educate; and, of course, a true picture of urban life in Connecticut’s larger cities would not be complete without weepy politicians who attend the funerals of three year old children shot by nineteen year old children, whose names are forgotten two weeks after last rights are read over them.

What the poor in cities need to be self-reliant is precisely the same social architecture struggling middle class householders in, say, Greenwich, Connecticut need to survive in a world that averts its eyes from private sufferings.  

In our 21st century post-progressive anti-clerical nirvana, we have, thankfully, replaced “the sin that dare not speak its name” with a much more penetrating silence wrapped around a false paternal state support system that keeps the poor under bridges while solicitous politicians agitate for an end to poverty caused in large part by solicitous politicians.

Restoring social order is, in our day, for reasons mentioned by Powell, a high hill to climb:

“City officials and legislators cannot examine the causes of child neglect and educational failure without indicting their own constituents.

“State officials can't examine the causes without indicting themselves for a welfare system that destroys the family while putting thousands of unionized and politically active 'helpers' on the government payroll.

“Educators, also numerous, unionized, and politically active, can't do it without calling more attention to their irrelevance and impugning their employment.”

Powell, a very lonely voice, nearly a party of one, should be given the equivalent of a Connecticut Pulitzer for having the courage to grapple with these problems seriously -- and in public -- while the rest of us stand by mute and unheeding.


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