The Multiple Possibilities of Decency
Family and Society in American History
Text of a speech which discusses the American family, determining its health by placing it in historical context. The family is not, as experts have maintained, in decay. Certain recent assumptions — that extended, not nuclear families were previously the norm, and that black families lack traditions because of their slavery background — are false. While no longer the "little commonwealth," the family remains a significant socializing institution. Each generation perceives itself "in crisis" and exaggerates the extent: while the divorce rate is alarming, it has seemed so for generations; and the current single-parent families are not vastly different from those resulting from parental death last century. Marriage is changing, but not disintegrating; more people get married now, and more marriages produce children. To overcome pessimism and frustration, we should approach child rearing open-mindedly, with respect for American pluralism. The American family is a resilient institution presently evolving in ways that permit optimism.