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Improving American Education Requires Family Law Reform

The recent release of Davis Guggenheim's film Waiting for Superman has contributed to a flurry of discussion over how to fix failing American schools. But nearly nobody mentions that American kids are often underperforming because of the conflict and insecurity created by the broken divorce courts and family policies of the United States. While some progress on education reform is possible by firing bad teachers and hiring new ones, it is clear that much of the potential improvement in educational performance of American children cannot be fully realized without fixing the broken family policies, laws, and courts in this country.

America's academic performance has been on a steady downward slope for decades. This decline parallels the destruction of families via no-fault divorce that has made divorce far more common as well as the laws and court behaviors that create conflict and place children into traumatic and contentious custody battles. Often these children are stripped of most or all contact with one of their parents due to wrongful sole custody decisions and the courts enabling and encouraging parental alienation child abuse. The two phenomena of poor school performance and poor family life are directly related. While parents do make their own share of mistakes, failed government policies are the glue that binds together these interconnected disasters into a destructive spiral.

Divorce Hurts School Performance And Graduation Rates

Studies show that divorce has a major negative impact on student performance. This impact has grown as divorces have become more common and contentious. In 1920, a divorce cost a student about 3.6 months of educational progress. By 1970, with the rise of no-fault divorce, the impact was 12 months of lost progress.

Divorces impact high school graduation rates severely. Students whose parents stay together average a high school completion rate of 78.4% by age 20. One divorce drops the rate to 60%. Two or more divorces drop it to 40%. The drop in high school completion roughly matches that related to the death of a parent.

While divorce is damaging, that damage can be mitigated. Kids who have experienced one divorce followed by a parental remarriage have a similar rate of high school completion as those kids whose parents didn't split up. But if the parents divorce yet again, the damage increases.

Parental Behaviors Affect Children's School Performance

In their book NutureShock, writers Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman describe research that shows that even small changes in the way parents praise and correct their children have huge impact on their achievement.

Psychologist Carol Dweck found that parents who praise their children's intelligence, rather than their effort, induce their children to take fewer risks at stretching their learning and experiences. The kids fear that they may fail doing something new and will not be praised. But children who are praised for their good effort are more willing to try new things, be it a new hobby, sport, or area of study.

Other research shows that variations in corrective style also have huge impact on kids. Bronson describes research that shows what happens when mothers are told their children did not do well on a test and take differing approaches to help their children cope. Psychologist Florrie Ng did an experiment with American kids in Illinois and Chinese kids in Hong Kong. She found that after telling mothers their children didn't do well on a test, American moms don't bother to try to help their children do better, unlike Chinese moms. The Americans ignore reported poor performance and talked about anything but the test, as if to shield their children from failure. The Chinese instead try to encourage their children to do better. The results? On a retest, Chinese students improved their performance by 33%, more than twice as large a performance improvement as their American counterparts. The American kids seem to get the message that it doesn't matter how they do, the Chinese get the message that they are loved but can do better.

From this research, it is clear that minor differences in how children are praised or corrected can create enormous differences in outcome as measured by academic performance.

Given this, how do you think big differences like having two loving cooperative parents versus two warring parents will affect academic performance?

Custody Battles and Missing Parents Hurt Kids

Parents are often being driven to fail their children by failed government policies. The government and its "child protection" agencies and family law courts pit parents against each other in custody wars, sapping the family's resources that could have been better allocated to education and raising children.

The parental warfare often results in children learning that being emotional manipulators is a path to success as parents cave in and reward these behaviors due to the fear their children will turn against them and the courts will strip them of their roles as parents if they do not. A parent in a custody battle may shy away from telling little Johnny and Jane that they need to work harder in school because that parent might never see them again as a result. All it takes for that to happen is the other parent making false accusations of emotional abuse or using the corrective comments as propaganda in a parental alienation brainwashing campaign.

Most of our readers know people who have lost their children to parental alienation, false child abuse allegations, or bribery by a selfish parent. Many of them have had it happen to them.

High-conflict parents driven by high-conflict courts create narcissistic children who will engage in their own selfish and high-conflict behaviors in the future. Such children are often emotionally immature, suffer from increased insecurities, and are frequently exposed to damaging conflicts between parents that teaches them severe conflict is normal and they can't count on the people who supposedly love them. Their troubled lives mean they cannot effectively focus on education, taking reasonable risks, and "just being kids" like most children used to be able to do.

The parental warfare also means that educational enrichment opportunities are fewer for them as their parents are paying their life savings to the divorce industry that is destroying their families and are so busy writing declarations, testifying, scheming, and/or defending against false allegations that they pay much less attention to their children.

Family Conflict Impedes Academic Achievement

The connection between divorce and poor school performance is not a new discovery. A 1991 study entitled Academic performance in children of divorce: psychological resilience and vulnerability found children of divorce suffered lower academic performance compared to children of intact families. Yet the researchers noted that not all children of divorce fared equally poorly. There appeared to be two subgroups of children of divorce, those who were not far different from their peers in intact families and those who performed drastically worse. I call the second subgroup the "children of conflict" to emphasize that it is not merely a divorce that is causing the trouble, it is a conflict-prone family life that leaves children feeling very insecure.

Why do the children of conflict fare so much more poorly? There is more than one answer to this.

First, the level of conflict they experience hurts their emotions and mental health, leaving them less able to focus on schooling. If you're being taught to hate your other parent and don't know when you'll see dad or mom or grandma and grandpa next, a lot of your attention and mental energy is being wasted on conflicts and feelings of insecurity rather than learning.

Second, the economic resources sucked out of their families into the greedy hands of the divorce industry and the government probably would have been spent in part on enrichment activities. Some parents might choose camps, others may choose educational vacations, others arts and crafts or fix-it projects, and still others might work part-time to spend more time with their kids. But American style divorce means that all of these options are largely lost except for the very wealthy.

Third, even if somehow the money wasted doesn't preclude opportunities, the wasteful court process causes many parents to spend countless hours hiring and consulting with lawyers, writing court papers, testifying, and attending hearings and mediations. The courts often pile on mandatory counseling and parenting classes in a deceitful attempt to make it look like they are trying to pour water on the conflict when in reality they are doing all they can to light a fire under both parents to scare them to death and motivate them to pour their time and money into the war. After all of this, there is a lot less time remaining for the children and a lot less energy for them, too. Parents are emotionally burned out by the warfare and it drastically worsens the quality of time many of them have with their children. Some parents no longer see their children at all despite all their efforts. The children suffer badly from this.

Is Having Married Parents the Key to Children's Success?

Although it is clear that many children of divorce suffer greatly in their academic performance, I am not convinced that it is marriage in and of itself that helps children be more successful. I suspect it has more to do with the children getting the benefit of two loving and involved parents along with their extended families who nurture, teach, socialize, and provide for the children in different ways. The benefits of increased economic resources also likely has something to do with the difference in results.

Kids get a greater diversity of experience to different ways of thinking, interests, and ways of living when they have two involved parents rather than one. Having two involved parents also means it is more likely that the kids will be around somebody with an advanced education who will encourage them to pursue college and graduate school. If their parents get along, even if they are not married, they also see that people can cooperate and that it benefits the children. They may also learn successful coping and negotiating strategies for when family members are not in total agreement. This is likely to help them cope with difficulties in their own relationships, be it with friends, family members, and love interests.

But American family policy does not encourage intact families. It doesn't encourage parents to get along, either. Instead, it rewards malicious parents who kick the other parent out of the home, falsely accuse them of being criminals or abusers, and keep the children from seeing them. VAWA, divorce laws, the pervasive tendency for courts to issue sole custody orders, and a child support system that rewards abusive parental alienators with money all hurt children and rightly infuriate the target parents, causing them to fight for justice and expend large quantities of time and money doing so. These problems are part of the systemic abuse against children and families by the government.

The single biggest enemy of American children is the American government and its destructive policies towards families.

Problems with underperforming American school kids cannot be fully fixed without fixing the broken family policies in this country. Any politician who advocates school reform without also advocating reform of this country's abusive family policies, laws, and courts is uninformed, a coward unwilling to fight the strong lobby of divorce industry profiteers, or has some agenda that is not good for the nation and its children.

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