Education Next Cover on Moynihan Report Anniversary Raises Hackles

By Mark Walsh — March 04, 2015 3 min read
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The conservative-leaning journal Education Next has created a stir with the cover of its spring issue, which features an African-American family with a mother holding a baby and a fading image of the father.

The issue is largely devoted to the 50th anniversary of the “Moynihan Report,” the 1965 work by then-assistant U.S. labor secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan officially titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Among other findings, the report identified a rising proportion of black children being raised in households headed by unmarried mothers.

The Education Next cover is a take on the painting “American Gothic,” but with a young black family (with the fading father), and the title “Today’s American Family?”

Melinda D. Anderson, a Washington freelance writer on education and race and a self-described “rabble rouser,” tweeted several responses to the cover on Tuesday, calling it “racist” and “dishonest.”

“Using a Black father in shadow to represent ‘Today’s American Family’ is a lie,” Anderson said on her Twitter page. And she addressed a tweet to Michael Petrilli, one of five executive editors of Education Next: “Your cover is perpetrating blatant ugly fraud about Black fathers/families. Fix it. Only response I care to hear. Thanks.”

Another Twitter correspondent, SW, called the cover image “lazy.” “Black faces are never the image for an ‘American Family’ unless attached to a negative stereotype,” SW tweeted.

Petrilli, whose main gig is as the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that supports charters, choice, and the Common Core State Standards, had asked at some point on his Twitter page: “WEIGH IN: Is this cover image provocative? Or inappropriate?”

Petrilli (apparently) later engaged in a battle of tweets with Anderson. She tweeted: “With high divorce rates, @MichaelPetrilli should edit cover w/white dad in shadow. Black dads *more* involved than whites by comparison.”

Petrilli, who has an article in the issue about how schools can address “America’s marriage crisis,” responded: ".@mdawriter I agree that the couple should have been white. But say more about black unmarried but involved fathers. Have evidence on that?”

The Twitter debate didn’t get much into the content of the hefty Education Next anniversary package on the Moynihan Report. There is a background article on the report and its backlash by James T. Patterson, a professor emeritus of history at Brown University, as well as a piece that asks, “Was Moynihan Right?,” is by Sara McLanahan, a sociology professor at Princeton, and Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. (The short answer: It’s complicated.)

Education Next is published out of the Kennedy School, and the editor-in-chief is Paul E. Peterson, a Kennedy School government professor whose research has been supportive of private school choice.

“At the time the [Moynihan Report] was released, it was roundly condemned for having constructed racial stereotypes and misidentified ‘pathologies’ that didn’t exist,” Peterson writes in the new issue. “Revisiting this topic in 2015, the many contributors to this issue of Education Next, writing from a broad range of perspectives, reveal that single parenthood is no longer limited to one racial group but constitutes a problem, with serious consequences for children, that still needs to be addressed.”

In case the Education Next cover and its contents aren’t provocative enough, the journal is co-sponsoring a symposium on Thursday in Washington, along with the Fordham Institute and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, about “Single-Parent Families: Revisiting the Moynihan Report 50 Years Later.” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is the keynote speaker. And the two panel discussions are titled, “Causes and Consequences of Single-Parent Families,” and “Strengthening Families and Improving Educational Outcomes.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.