The causes of family disintegration remain unclear, but 51 years ago Moynihan and then Coleman foresaw the consequences. Moynihan said the “tangle” of pathologies associated with the absence of fathers produces a continually renewed cohort of inadequately socialized adolescent males. Socializing them is society’s urgent business if it is to avoid chaotic neighborhoods and schools where maintaining discipline displaces teaching. Coleman documented how schools are reflections of, rather than cures for, the failure of families to function as the primary transmitters of social capital.Years ago, Michael Harrington gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin. Poverty, he argued, could be fixed by throwing money at it. (This talk was sometime during the Carter administration, meaning just after Richard Nixon and just before Ronald Reagan suggested there were limits to what government could do with money alone.)
Mr Harrington was wrong.
Coleman’s evidence that cultural rather than financial variables matter most was not welcomed by education bureaucracies and unions. Similarly, we now have more than half a century of awkward, and often ignored, evidence about the mostly small and evanescent effects of early childhood education. Today’s Democratic party fancies itself “the party of science”; Barack Obama pledged, in his first inaugural address, to “restore science to its rightful place.” Social science, however, is respected by Democrats only when it validates policies congenial to the interests of favored factions.Teachers unions turn out the votes. Dependent clients are a reliable voting bloc for Democrat ward-heelers. Vote counting trumps social science. (Not that there's anything new there, either. Years ago, the Reagan administration sought to reduce public spending on academic grants. At least one economist defended the grants on the grounds that many social science findings, well beyond the Moynihan and Coleman reports, were conservative. Rent seeking trumps ideology.)