One morning at breakfast Bufford informed me of a faculty meeting that afternoon after school. Bufford seldom held or needed faculty meetings because he believed in walking the fences and talking to teachers one on one throughout the day. When I asked him why the meeting, he answered that he couldn’t tell me, but that it was “mighty sad.”
That afternoon, Bufford called the meeting to order and immediately recognized the school counselor. The counselor stood and summarily announced the purpose of the meeting was to inform the faculty that the parents of one of our ninth-grade boys were getting a divorce.
As soon as the words left her lips, faculty members one by one began to place their hands over their mouths. A collective moan permeated the air. For at least 30 seconds silence shrouded the entire room.
OK, divorce is a personal matter, but it’s definitely a social one as well. If a divorcing couple has children, their decision to divorce affects a school, one or more individual teachers, a classroom setting, and according to the National Organization for Marriage, the nation’s crime rate. I deeply respect, and desire to honor, the sensitivity of this topic. Many people are divorced not of their choosing. Divorce does have victims.
But since divorce affects the society at large so definitely and so intensely, it must be considered and addressed as a social problem. One must ask why a room full of chatty, fellowshipping adults, that I described above, would turn into stony silence when they learned about a divorce.
The answer is the year was 1967.
Why did the counselor ask all of the teachers of the student to remain after the meeting to further discuss the student’s needs?
The answer is the divorce picture then was not a ho-hum matter. It certainly didn’t hover at the 50-52 per cent rate as it does today.
Most likely every reader of these words has either been divorced or has a family that has been touched by divorce.
What does this tell us? Frankly, it tells us that divorce is now a presumed condition, a normal occurrence, even a national characteristic.
It is not insensitive or cruel to state that divorce is brokenness, no matter whom it involves. Brokenness is always sad, hurtful, destructive and normally long lasting. There is a considerable amount of scholarship and literature on divorce that asserts it is not as damaging as most people think. Children are resilient, such research claims, and many children learn quickly that they can play divorced parents against each other to get what they want. If this is true, it is but another reason why divorce is so unfortunate.
What can we do to change the divorce picture? First we can acknowledge some facts and face them. It is a fact that the divorce rate began to increase drastically during the 1960s. There is little profit in blaming too much else on the ’60s and on Jane Fonda, but as students of our own culture we need to ponder what happened during that turbulent decade. In brief, it was during the ’60s that we ceased being as tough as our parents and grandparents. We began giving up on marriage.
It was also during the ’60s that social and moral confusion of all kinds ensued. Toni Morrison, whose books are recommended by the Common Core curriculum, remarked, “The little nuclear family is a paradigm that just doesn’t work. Why we are hanging on to it, I don’t know.” One thing we can do is dispute such damaging thought and keep it out of our school curriculum.
We should also stop rewarding disloyal husbands with a second chance at political leadership, especially when they have just recently shown what kind of leaders they really are. We should also reclaim the so-called social issues and press them.
A community or national fabric is not held together by economics. Economics merely supplies food. Nor by defense. The military merely protects territory. Nor by education. Education merely heightens intellect and earning power. Social fabric is not about money, education, or military strength. It is about “the little nuclear family paradigm” that Morrison and others so openly disdain.
In state and national politics, social conservatives are being pushed aside nowadays because their issues are considered divisive. As it turns out, the divisive issues are the most pivotal ones. Divorce shakes our confidence in the existence of an ordered, meaningful society.
Saying “I do” and meaning it is more important now than ever.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.