Around lunchtime today, I was sitting with one of the boys in my mom’s kindergarten class as her students had snack. A good amount of his classmates were absent today, and so he was alone at his table and I decided to sit with him. He showed me a book about deer and explained that he wanted to go hunting soon. When I asked him if his dad has taken him hunting before, he told me that he is in prison for “getting in a fight.”
Fatherlessness is an epidemic in the United States. According to an article by the National Center for Fathering, “more than twenty million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father.” It goes on to discuss various statistics involving fatherlessness in America and how it is “associated with almost every societal ill facing our country’s children.”
My mother teaches in a Title 1 school, where the student I met this morning is one of so many who don’t have relationships with their fathers. In my experience, male students are most often the centers of discussion in regards to the lack of a paternal presence. But what about female students? My mother has told me that she has had numerous students in the past who were growing up fatherless – males and females alike.
Boys and girls both deserve to grow up in homes with a mother and a father, period. But in schools like my mom’s where so many students simply aren’t given that opportunity, one of the best things we can do is get more men involved in the educational system as volunteers, substitutes, and “regular” teachers. Getting more men involved in education should be one of the top priorities of teaching recruiters across the country.
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Even though fatherlessness extends throughout one’s education, kindergarten and preschool provide the first opportunity to get men involved in children’s lives who don’t have positive male role models otherwise. Does this mean that early education teachers such as my mom have more of an obligation to ensure that fatherless students have as much of a positive male presence in their lives as possible?
After the student told me about his father earlier today, I couldn’t stop thinking about his future. How much of a long-term impact will his father’s being in prison have on him? Will he have as many opportunities as his classmates whose fathers help them with homework, drive them to school, and attend parent-teacher conferences? After we talked about his dad, he went on to show me his reading and math skills, and it is remarkable how academically gifted he is given his lack of a male figure in his life. However, I couldn’t help but think about how much he still needs the presence of a male role model.
Let me ask you this: Is it worse for young students to not know their biological fathers, or for them to only know them as convicts? This is something to ponder, because both types of fatherlessness are all too prevalent in America and are extremely detrimental to students. For now, the best way to combat this issue is to recruit more male teachers, substitutes, and volunteers in the educational system, starting in kindergarten and preschool but extending throughout all levels of education. Stay tuned for more on the topic of men in education, a subject about which I am extremely passionate!