The Children of Hobbes: Education, Family Structure and the Problem of Social Order

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [University of York]On: 08 October 2014, At: 11:24Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Sociological FocusPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:</p><p>The Children of Hobbes: Education,Family Structure and the Problem ofSocial OrderCarl L. Bankston III a &amp; C. Eddie Palmer aa University of Southwestern Louisiana , USAPublished online: 19 Nov 2012.</p><p>To cite this article: Carl L. Bankston III &amp; C. Eddie Palmer (1998) The Children of Hobbes:Education, Family Structure and the Problem of Social Order, Sociological Focus, 31:3, 265-281, DOI:10.1080/00380237.1998.10571106</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp;Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>THE CHILDREN OF HOBBES: EDUCATION, FAMILY STRUCTURE </p><p>AND THE PROBLEM OF SOCIAL ORDER* </p><p>CARL L. BANKSTON HI SOCIOLOGICAL FOCUS C. EDDIE PALMER Vol. 31 No. 3 University of Southwestern Louisiana August 1998 </p><p>This article suggests that the problem of social order remains a basic theoretical and practical issue for sociologists. It maintains that Dennis Wrong's discussion of this problem can help us conceptualize degrees of social order or disorder as emerging from patterns of social interactions. Given the increasing prevalence of single-parent families as an American social pattern, the article investigates the possibility that family structure may influence school outcomes by producing varying levels of social order in schools. Specifically, it looks at whether concentrations of students from single-parent families may lead to conflictual environments that can influence the school performance of all students, regardless of individual family backgrounds. </p><p>INTRODUCTION </p><p> arsons and Shils described the problem of social order as "one of the very first functional imperatives of social systems" (1951, p. 180). This problem is not only a philosophical issue, as Roidt (1995) has claimed; it is also a practical matter since the order or disorder of a social system can affect the lives of its members. </p><p>Dennis Wrong's The Problem of Order (1994) offers an intriguing investigation of the forces that hold social groups together. In probing the nature of social order, Wrong points out that this term has two closely related but distinct meanings. It can refer to regularity or rule in human social interactions, and it can refer to patterns of cooperation among actors. He argues that people develop regularities as norms, roles and institutions in the course of recurrent interactions. In this sense, social order tends to "take care of itself," since the lives of human beings largely consist of interactions with others. These interactions, though, may differ greatly in character, since they may be products of a variety of motivations. </p><p>Thinking about motivations, in Wrong's discussion, introduces the Hobbesian order problem, the problem of conflict versus cooperation. This is not an absolute choice, as suggested by Hobbes' (1968) unfortunate and misleading description of the natural human state as a "war of all against all." Humans in a state of total conflict could exist no longer than the time it would take parents to murder their children.1 Perfect cooperation, at the other extreme, seems to be a social state that exists only in </p><p>.Please direct all correspondence to Carl L. Bankston III, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, P.O. Box 40198, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, LA 70504-0198, e-mail: </p><p>265 </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f Y</p><p>ork]</p><p> at 1</p><p>1:24</p><p> 08 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p><p></p></li><li><p>266 SOCIOLOGICAL FOCUS </p><p>the imagination. In response to classic functionalism's "oversodalized" conception of cooperative order as the product of norms imposed on individuals from an external society, Wrong argues that human beings produce particular Mendings of conflict and cooperation from expectations developed in the course of their dealings with one another (this, also, is one of the themes of Wrong's well-known 1961 essay). </p><p>One of the virtues of Wrong's conceptualization of social order is that it offers a means of describing in what way social patterns are sui generis. They emerge from shared expectations created by interactions and, as collective regularities, become environments within which individuals live. A second virtue lies in its recognition that these regularities may vary greatly in the amount of conflict or cooperation they yield. Thus, the potential of any given social pattern for creating conflictual or cooperative environments is a matter of both theoretical and practical concern. </p><p>Among the most notable developments in modern American social patterns has been the increasing prevalence of single-parent families. Bumpass and Martin (1989) predicted that two-thirds of all first marriages would end in divorce, and custody of children is overwhelmingly granted to women. The proportion of unmarried mothers in the United States has been rising since the early 1950s, and by the mid-1990s nearly one-third of all births in the U.S. were to single mothers. According to Bumpass (1990), about half of all American children will spend some time in a single-parent family, and the majority of these children will remain in mother-only families until they become adults. </p><p>The large number of children from single-parent families means that children are also more likely than they were in the past to find themselves in social environments in which other children from single-parent families predominate. One might argue, then, that single-parent family structure is increasingly exercising a contextual influence, as well as an individual influence. This means that studying the effects of this increasingly common family structure on children is not simply a matter of looking at how individual children are influenced by their own families; it can also be seen as a matter of considering what level of conflict exists in the social order created by interactions among children from one-parent families. Since school is one of the primary locations of the society of modern children, we need to look at what kind of school social environment is created by the prevalence of children from single-parent families. Utilizing the second meaning of social order suggested by Wrong, order as cooperation and relative absence of conflict, we can think of this as investigating the relationship between family structure and disorder (presence of conflict and disruption) in the school environment. </p><p>THEORETICAL BACKGROUND </p><p>Researchers have generally found that students from single-parent families tend to show weaker levels of school performance than students from other family types (Thompson, Alexander and Entwhistle 1988; Astone and McLanahan 1991; Sandefur, McLanahan and Wojtkiewicz 1992; Featherstone, Cundick and Jensen 1993; Hong Li and Wojtkiewicz 1993; Wojtkiewicz 1993). Children from single-parent families have also been found to be more likely than other children to have psychological problems, to commit anti-social acts, to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and to display aggression and other forms of behavior likely to create problems in the classroom </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f Y</p><p>ork]</p><p> at 1</p><p>1:24</p><p> 08 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>THE CHILDREN OF HOBBES 267 </p><p>(Dornbusch et al. 1985; McLanahan and Booth 1989; Featherstone, Cundick and Jensen 1993; Pearson, Ialongo and Hunter 1994; Vaden-Kiernan, Ialongo and Kellam 1995). </p><p>The negative relationship between single-parent families and scholastic performance has been attributed to the weak economic position of many single mothers, who make up the overwhelming majority of single parents (Herzog and Sudia 1973; Blechman 1982; McLanahan 1985; Acock and Kiecolt 1989; Takeuchi, Williams and Adair 1991). Nevertheless, some previous research suggests that family structure can have a direct effect, independent of socioeconomic status, on school performance and on behavior and attitudes relevant to school performance (Sandefur, McLanahan and Wojtkievicz 1992; Hong Li and Wojtkiewicz 1993; Wojtkiewicz 1993; Bankston and Caldas, forthcoming). Mulkey, Crain and Harrington (1992) found that depressed income could not explain the lower scholastic performance of children from mother-only families, but that taking into account the behavioral problems of children from these families completely explained the lower performance. </p><p>Precisely why children from one-parent families should display greater behavioral problems than other children is a question of family dynamics, and it lies beyond the scope of the present work. It is possible that since two-parent families are the normative standard in America, a process of labeling or self-labeling as "deviant," rather than any inherent defect in a one-parent family structure, may account for the problems of single-parent children. Regardless of the source of the problems, though, when we concentrate children with behavioral difficulties, we can expect a disruptive social environment. </p><p>If the behavioral explanation is correct, then it is fairly easy to see how a school made up predominantly of children from single-parent families can create an environment that will tend to lower the academic performance of all students in a school. Associating with schoolmates who have negative attitudes toward school and who engage in problematic behavior can affect the attitudes and behavior of adolescents. Research findings support the view that social environments emerge from sets of social ties and that these environments, in turn, shape the behavior and attitudes of people in social groups. According to Bott (1955), social contacts are important determinants of attitudes toward conjugal roles by married people. Ell (1984) found that the social networks that surround an individual exercise a strong influence on health behavior and personal well-being, and Schilit (1984) found that alcohol consumption is greatly affected by social contacts. Feld (1982) provided evidence of a general homophily of social sets, and Feld (1981) also argued that similarity among associates exists because of the influences of associates on one another, as well as because of the tendency of similar individuals to be drawn to the same activities and situations. Kilburn has found that knowledge of an individual's network ties can, in some instances, predict attitudes and behavior "even better than knowledge of a person's own characteristics'' (1993, p. 1). </p><p>Given the age-graded institutionalization of adolescents in contemporary society, the peer group network in school has become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, influences on adolescent behavior and attitudes (Coleman 1961), making peer group association at school a critical matter. In the influential report Equality of Educational Opportunity, Coleman and associates (1966) found that the academic achievement of American students was least affected by material resources such as </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f Y</p><p>ork]</p><p> at 1</p><p>1:24</p><p> 08 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>268 SOCIOLOGICAL FOCUS </p><p>curriculum and facilities, somewhat affected by teacher quality but affected most by backgrounds of fellow students. Others, since Coleman, have also found that the composition of the school population is generally more important than school policies, methods or resources as a determinant of achievement (Neisser 1986; Seiden 1990; Caldas 1993; Bankston and Caldas 1996; Bankston and Caldas 1997). </p><p>If family structures influence education by providing the backgrounds that create school social environments, this means that we need to consider family structure as a school-level characteristic. Thus, the present study will attempt to move beyond the level of the effects of individual family structure on individual students. It will examine whether the predominance of single-parent family structure may create an environment of social disorganization that can have negative effects on all students. </p><p>Using data from a survey of teachers in Lafayette, Louisiana, we will look first at teachers' perceptions of school discipline problems as a form of social disorganization, and how teachers believe that this type of social disorganization affects the performance of students. Next, we will consider the extent to which social disorganization, defined as the extent of violence and discipline problems in schools, may be attributed to teacher and school characteristics, to the reported socioeconomic characteristics of students and to the reported prevalence of students from single-parent families. </p><p>DATA AND METHODS </p><p>This study draws on two sources of data. First, in order to establish that there is evidence for considering prevailing family structure as a determinant of school outcomes, we utilize information from Louisiana's Graduation Exit Examination (GEE). All public high school students in Louisiana must take and pass all five subject components of the GEE as a prerequisite to being awarded a public high school diploma. The exam is criterion-referenced: The test items are tied to the official Louisiana curriculum as outlined by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. </p><p>The first three components of the GEE Math, English Language Arts and Written Composition are first tak...</p></li></ul>