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Stephanie Coontz Flunks the Family Test

Stephanie Coontz, author of a soon-to-be-released book on marriage, contributed an eye-opening op-ed column to today’s edition of The Los Angeles Times. In “Our Kids Are Not Doomed,” Coontz argues that calls for a return to the traditional family are misguided and unnecessary, since kids have just learned to adjust to new family forms, single parenthood, parental divorce, etc. Coontz promotes a postmodern form of the family–relativizing family structure and eliminating any notion of “normal.” As she paints the picture, statistics indicate that children are coping better than in the past, parents are learning to “handle divorce better,” and parents are spending more time with children. She admits that social pathologies persist, but argues that “it doesn’t help today’s diverse families to be told their children are doomed unless they can shoehorn themselves into a traditional marriage.” Her answer: “It’s time to stop predicting social catastrophe from the transformation of family life and start helping every family build on its distinctive strengths and minimize its weaknesses.” Of course, her utopia of “diverse families” distinguished only by different strengths and weaknesses exists only in her imagination.

Fittingly, Stephanie Coontz teaches at an institution where imagination runs virtually without limit. She teaches family history at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington–an institution so liberal that it doesn’t give grades. No kidding. The school describes itself as “a progressive, public liberal arts and sciences college.” Here’s the explanation for the no-grades policy: “Because your learning is too important to be reduced to an arbitrary number or letter grade, you’ll receive narrative evaluations from your faculty. Faculty will detail your accomplishments, list subject areas you studied and assign the credits you earn toward your bachelor’s degree. Narrative evaluations give graduate schools and employers a comprehensive picture of your undergraduate education.” So, “narrative evaluations” replace grades. As expected, the school is very committed to diversity. Take a look at this: “At Evergreen, you’ll be encouraged to voice your opinion. Your background, ethnicity, social class and preferred lifestyle will add to the multicultural perspectives here. You will find that attention to diversity, in the broadest sense, runs throughout the curriculum.” Preferred lifestyle? My guess that this term is interpreted “in the broadest sense.”