Tom Finneran: America’s New Grand Canyon

Friday, November 15, 2013


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The Grand Canyon may be one of the seven wonders of North America, but there’s a new 'grand canyon' emerging, which represents the country’s growing achievement gap, believes Tom Finneran.

America’s Grand Canyon is certainly one of the seven wonders of North America if not of the entire world. Its contours and colors are breathtaking and to contemplate the Colorado River’s stunning erosion of rock is to stand in silent awe of God’s natural temples.

There’s a new grand canyon in America today. It too is wondrous, in frightening and appalling ways. I speak of the rapidly growing canyon of achievement between well-grounded families and the “families” of kids without structure. Think of absent fathers, rotating boyfriends, multiple children, no job, minimal education, and a culture that glorifies shameful behavior. Very few if any children born into such zombie circumstances have any chance at success.

Please note that I am not calling for any special “programs” for such children because no public entity can replace all that is missing from their lives. Their parents, having made repetitively reckless decisions, have consigned their children to social, economic, and educational oblivion. Note too that my reference to “well-grounded families” does not reference or require wealth or income. Rather, the reference is to the daily structure and stability of traditional American families—i.e.—two parents, at least one job, a persistent work ethic, and a focus on school and school activities, including homework.

If the six-figure income young couple down the street have children, I can be reasonably confident that those children will have such structure in their lives. And let’s be crystal clear here—the circumstances of that family are not the “privileges” used so pejoratively by the tenured activists who dominate our campuses today. The common truth is that the six figure young couple worked hard in school, they did well in class, they postponed or even sat out the parties, they postponed children too, and they began a classic American climb into the middle class. They should both be praised and emulated rather than mocked. Their success, and the success of their children, did not spring forth from the six figure income. It sprang from specific persistent behaviors which then spawn success.

Contrast their journey with the unfocused wandering of people on the other side of this new grand canyon. On this other side of the canyon, school was considered a joke, an inconvenience, a place to flirt and hang out. Parties outpolled homework and truancy was the norm. As were children. As were disappearing fathers.

Jobs? Work habits? Work ethic? Marriage? Forget about those pedestrian and bourgeois things. Can’t you see how cool we are? Pity the children here. Theirs is a bleak world.

An article in the Sunday New York Times cited a stunning statistic—that a child of professionals will hear thirty million more words by the age of four than the child of a welfare recipient. Thirty million more words!! Those words are any child’s future foundation. The children on the receiving end heard those words over and over as they were held, sung to, and played with. Books were pulled off shelves, stories were told and re-told, questions were asked, and questions were answered. Bedtime prayers, animal stories, songs, rhymes, and family tales were shared and another American child began her amazing upward trajectory.

Is it not agonizing and depressing to consider the sterile life of infants and children in those households where the notion of a parent reading a book is more unlikely than me playing center for the Celtics? It is even more depressing when we consider that we have surrendered our capacity, and our right, to be angrily judgmental about such social dysfunction. Heaven forbid that we might condemn promiscuity, teenage motherhood, absent invisible fathers, and the entire array of pathologies now affecting our culture.

Even more perversely, we somehow manage to describe the impressive results of positive habits and behavior as “privileges”, attempting to impose feelings of guilt in those who are actually carrying the country forward. In fact, we go even further in the wrong direction when we tax the outcomes achieved by good behavior and subsidize the outcomes brought on by bad behavior.

America has sadly become a confused nation, seemingly unable to criticize reckless impulsive and self-destructive behaviors yet altogether too quick to condemn the achievement and success brought on by old-fashioned virtues. Just using that word—virtue—shows how far we have fallen in the essential task of preparing our children for life. Virtue seems so quaint in this age of the loud obnoxious lout. Modesty, humility, self- restraint, kindness, courtesy, patience, effort, and honesty should be fully encouraged. The abundant foolishness of our age should be broadly and consistently condemned.

Peer into America’s new grand canyon and shudder for the future. Thirty million words……….many million lives. And that river you see? That’s a torrent of tears eroding America’s soul.


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