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A return to responsibility

The Augusta Chronicle You can see it on the roads and highways, where drivers either don’t know or don’t respect the rules — and courtesy is certainly the last thing on their minds. You can see it in the schools, where the government feels it necessary to feed the children not just lunch but breakfast, and where teachers and administrators are counselors, cops and more — all the responsibilities of parenthood and none of the rights. You can see it in our neighborhoods and retail businesses, where a lack of morals and an abundance of guns and attitude govern so many young lives — and end too many of them. All these ills are but varying symptoms of a common syndrome: The breakdown of the American family. The breakdown of the family has been described for years as mere change — not inferior, just different. The evidence says otherwise. ”The single biggest predictor of poverty is family structure,” writes Gary Palmer of the Alabama Policy Institute. “In Alabama, 8.5 percent of married couples live below the federal poverty line, but 52.1 percent of female-headed households live below the poverty line. Family structure is also the single biggest predictor of crime in a community, of academic failure, of teen pregnancy, and the list of social problems goes on.” Census figures show marriage on the wane in the Augusta area: Since 1990, the percentage of Augustans divorced or never married is up, the latter by 9 percent. The percentage of those married has gone down by 6 percent. The trends are echoed in the greater area and the nation. We’re seeing it in other Western countries, too. ”Rising divorce rates, fewer marriages and the growth of civil partnerships mean that the traditional family model is no longer ‘the norm’,” writes The Daily Telegraph of London, “and government efforts to rescue it are futile, according to Dr Katherine Rake, (Britain’s Family and Parenting Institute’s) new chief executive.” Society isn’t helping, either. Movies and literature have exalted single parenting. Tax policies have been hostile to marriage. Media have denigrated marriage — such as CNN Headline News’ Joy Behar, who recently called monogamy a “life sentence.” Institutions have bent over backward to support, and to make people feel better about, lifestyle choices that impoverish children and fill prisons. So, ask yourself: When the nuclear family has exploded, who’s doing the teaching at home? Who’s teaching morality? Courtesy? Respect? Class (maybe too much to hope for)? Who’s teaching the rules of the road? (Notably, in Georgia schools no longer teach driver’s education.) Church attendance also has ebbed in recent decades, meaning those gaps in morality and courtesy just keep getting bigger. Schools and social welfare agencies have taken on much of the burden, but government is a poor parent. Civic organizations have done their heroic best to help, but they’re feeling budget pinches worse than government is, and it’s difficult to sustain any longterm effort with volunteer power. One local group called Positive Boys Positive Men — which mentors boys ages 9 to 18 in academic, cultural, social and physical activity — is expanding services to 10 Richmond County schools, it was announced this week. Good for them! But even the most noble efforts of volunteers and bureaucrats are poor substitutes for parenting. It’s encouraging that, at a rally Saturday against crime in the Pepperidge subdivision, inspired by the recent shooting deaths of two teens, the Rev. Claude Harris of New Life Worship Center put his finger on the problem: In his work with gangs, he said, “We found there is one thing these young men need — and that’s family.” How do we get that back? Well, for one thing, we’ve got to be willing to be politically incorrect enough to admit that the erosion of the married, two-parent family is the main problem to begin with! We’ve got to stop deifying single parenthood and considering out-of-wedlock births to be just another harmless lifestyle choice. Churches, schools, governments and society at large have got to start holding parents accountable for both their actions and inaction. Until that happens, and afterward, adults are going to have to band together again and agree it’s OK to correct a wayward youth acting out in the store. Adults used to be on the same side, in expecting decorum and respect from minors. Nor can we allow a climate in which police are the enemy. Give no quarter, no shelter, no slack to the criminals in your midst. Call them out, and call police. As we suggested in an earlier editorial, we need a renaissance of responsibility. Saturday’s rally in Pepperidge sure felt like a good start.

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