Richard Weissbourd

Richard Weissbourd teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Vulnerable Child (Addison-Wesley).

Recent Articles

Moral Parent, Moral Child

These days there is once again a great deal of hand-wringing about the sorry moral state of America's children. All the usual suspects have been rounded up: parents who lack values, schools that neglect "character" education, and -- conservative pundits' favorite culprit -- family breakdown. As William Bennett puts it in The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family , "Most of our social pathologies -- crime, imprisonment rates, welfare...alcohol and drug abuse...sexually transmitted diseases -- are manifestations, direct and indirect, of the crack-up of the modern American family." Concern about single parenthood is legitimate. But single parenthood is not primarily responsible for children's moral troubles. The bigger problem is that our country fails to support good parenting, and it dramatically fails to cultivate critical moral qualities in adults -- qualities that are critical to children's moral development -- in part because of wrongheaded notions...

Divided Families, Whole Children

Listening to the children of divorce can help us understand how to mend the damage of marital discord and family breakup.

When Fred Louis [names in this article have been changed] looks back at everything that went haywire last year--leaving school, drinking heavily, feeling bottom-less misery--it seems as if his parents' divorce a decade before was, at the root. An earnest, barrel-chested 17-year-old with a broad, mild smile, he didn't understand the full extent of the damage at first. In fact, he thought he had come to a kind of truce with the divorce. Instead, his feelings about the divorce sneaked up and uncoiled on him. Divorce is often held responsible for the difficulties of millions of children like Fred. Divorce and unwed motherhood are being blamed for children's school troubles, delinquency, and drug abuse, as well as a renewed cycle of teenage pregnancy and family collapse. Yet the reality is far more complex than the cartoon. Sarah and Bill Louis divorced when Fred, their second of three children, was seven years old. All Fred recalls prior to the divorce is his parents' "fighting about...

Distancing Dad

“Would you tell your wife to pack your son an extra pair of shoes tomorrow?”

Why are millions of fathers a trivial presence in their children's lives, and what might we do about it? Legions of fatherhood projects have cropped up around the country, seeking to reconnect fathers and their children. Promise Keepers and other national groups are raising public awareness and struggling to stir in men some sense of moral responsibility. However, a crucial key to bringing men back into the fold may lie neither in programs nor in marches, but in the far more mundane work of changing the fundamental practices of the institutions—schools, health plans, religious organizations, community agencies—that interact with families day to day. Fathers are drifting away from their children in a wide range of circumstances. About half of American marriages are ending in divorce; in some 90 percent of divorces, mothers are awarded custody of their children, whose contact with their fathers drops off at a staggering rate. Only one-sixth of all children will see their...