Can't preserve a family that wasn't one at first

MIKE ROYKO

March 24, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

When the worried talk is about schools, the answers ar always money and new programs. The politicians talk about the money, where it will come from and how it will be spread around. The educational experts talk about programs and how they will be implemented. Where would they be without programs to implement?

When the worried talk is about crime, the answers are always stricter gun control laws and, of course, the implementation of a vast array of new drug programs.

When the worried talk is about troubled families, the answers are new federal social service programs.

Even now the White House is talking about new multibillion-dollar "family preservation" programs that will send out hordes of social workers to bring broken families together. Assuming, of course, that these programs are properly implemented.

And now that we have a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, there will be a blizzard of new programs.

If there is anything that Democrats believe in, it is that for every problem, there should be a federal program.

But there is something missing in the talk about the problems and the programs that are intended to solve these problems.

It is what I call the "Who, me?" factor. As in, "It is your responsibility," followed by, "Who, me?"

Start with the schools. The problem isn't money. We spend vast sums on schools.

Nor is it a lack of programs. We have more educational programs than can be implemented in the next 100 years.

Where there are problem schools, the biggest source of the problem is the parent. The kind of parent who, when told that she or he is responsible for her or his children, says: "Who, me?"

Show me the worst school districts in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, and I will show you parents who should not be raising a Chia Pet, much less a child.

These are the places where the illegitimacy rates are jaw-dropping, where ignorance and illiteracy are handed down from generation to generation like family heirlooms.

What kind of program do we implement to persuade some dense teen-age girl that she should not couple with some street-swagger boyfriend? What program, if implemented, will make the young man understand that if he fathers children, it is his responsibility to live with those children and try to support them?

"Who, me?" they will answer with amazement. Isn't that what the school is for? Or the social workers? Isn't there a program that does it?

The same applies to crime. Strict gun laws will make only a tiny dent in that problem.

Thickheaded as the gun lobby can be, it's right about one thing: The gangbangers, grocer-killers and drug dealers aren't deterred registration or cooling-off laws. They don't shop at sporting marts with the skeet-shooting crowd.

Their gun suppliers deal out of car trunks or abandoned buildings.

And we can trace the rise in violent crime to the same source of the school ailments.

The parts of the cities that produce the illegitimate illiterates are giving us the greatest number of trigger-happy young felons. You don't have to know how to parse a sentence, much less read one, to point a gun at a convenience store clerk or deliver a load of crack.

So now we are going to get a Family Preservation Act and more programs for social workers to implement. If it does some good, which I doubt, fine.

But what we need as much as a Family Preservation Act is a Family Prevention Act.

There's not much point in trying to preserve families that weren't families in the first place.

If you go to a Family Court in a big city, what you see is some stupefied young woman, her physically or mentally abused kids and a slack-jawed boyfriend sitting in a back row.

Since when has that been a family? And what is there to preserve? If the kids survive the abuse and neglect, they'll be the next generation of social misfits and menaces.

And when they are told that they are responsible for their own actions and for those of their children, they will look blank and say: "Who, me?"

If President Clinton intends to create public works jobs, then I suggest he do it this way: Round up the young fathers who breed and walk away.

Give them a choice: Work and use the paycheck to support your family or go to jail.

If he wants to reform welfare, then apply the same standards we do in our fishing and hunting laws. There is a limit.

And what would be wrong with telling a woman: "Two is your limit and you have reached it. Any more than that, you support them yourselves."

Is that hard-hearted and insensitive? Maybe.

But for several decades, we have been good-hearted, bleeding-hearted and ultrasensitive. And what has it given us? The highest rates of illegitimacy, illiteracy, homicide and chronic dependency of any developed country.

And at the rate we're going, it is only going to get worse, not better.

So the social engineers and program implementers should start taking a new approach. Which used to be the old approach.

When someone says: "Who, me?" the answer should be, "Yes, you, and don't do it again."

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