Obama fatherhood initiative: a rare issue of bipartisan accord?
Fatherhood and parental duty get a push from the Obama team during a series of fall forums. But concerns about government intervention make some conservatives wary.
In theory at least, the Obama administration’s National Conversation on Fatherhood and Parental Responsibility is one of those rare instances when liberals and conservatives can enthusiastically join together. It’s a federal government initiative designed to strengthen American schools and help their most disadvantaged students by focusing on the role of fathers. A series of community forums, scheduled to last at least through the fall, deals with issues like the need for parents to take personal responsibility for the success of their children.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, don’t look for too much bipartisan bliss just yet. For many conservatives, anything that even hints at an expanding role for the federal government is cause for discomfort. “Potentially, it could be a case of the government helping where help is not needed,” says Chuck Donovan, senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The 'father' role
Since Father’s Day, members of the Obama administration have been on tour meeting with neighborhood leaders – everyone from school superintendents to prison ministers to administrators of not-for-profit groups. The goal of these meetings is to determine who and what are already doing a good job of filling “father” needs in the lives of children. It’s all part of the Obama administration’s drive to explore the piece of academic achievement that experts agree matters most, yet is often least discussed by policymakers: the role of parents (specifically fathers) in the life of a child.
Fatherhood is a subject about which President Obama (who grew up while his own father was on another continent) has strong personal feelings. And it’s an area long flagged by the right as a major concern. “With the rate of children born out of wedlock in this country approaching 40 percent, it’s a huge problem,” Mr. Donovan says.
A link between fathers and student achievement
So far, the government’s role has been exploratory, and no concrete proposals are attached to the fledging initiative. At a recent fatherhood conversation in Manchester, N.H., however, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about ways for schools and parents to better come together to support children. “Fathers are the most important teachers,” he said. “When a father steps up, outcomes improve dramatically.”