Mississippi's Republican Governor Phil Bryant remarked that the quality of education began declining in the United States after mothers started to work outside the home. He added it was not his intention to blame mothers for education problems, reports Emily Wagster Pettus of ABC News, but his words proved controversial.
The statement was made on Tuesday in Washington during an education forum hosted by The Washington Post when Bryant and two other governors were asked why America's education system became so mediocre.
Bryant responded: "Both parents started working, and the mom is in the work place. That's not a bad thing. I'm going to get in trouble. I can just see — I can see the emails tomorrow. But now, both parents are working. They're pursuing careers. It's a great American story now — that women are in the work place."
The moderator asked if it was the mother's place to teach children to read.
Bryant said: "No, no, no. But I think there was that loving, nurturing opportunity — that both parents had a little bit of time."
Later Bryant clarified his statement on a phone interview with the Associated Press. Bryant explained more pressure is put on families when both parents have careers, and that affects education. He conveyed that his own wife worked outside the home for more then 38 years while their two children were growing up.
"Anybody that thinks I would blame working mothers for failures in education is just ridiculous," the governor told the AP.
The focus topic during The Washington Post forum was ensuring that children become proficient readers by the time they leave 3rd grade — a commitment of Bryant's during the 2013 legislative session. Bryant signed a law that states children who struggle with reading in early grades are required to receive intense instruction to close the gap, and that children who are not capable of reading at a basic level by the end of third grade are to be held back. The law takes effect at the end of the 2014-15 academic year.
As he predicted, Bryant received criticism from many working mothers for his remark. Democratic state Senator Deborah Dawkins of Pass Christian was one; while raising three children, she worked as a physician's assistant. She said Bryant is out of touch with the real world and that he doesn't understand the problems that parents face in finding affordable, quality day care for children.
Mississippi Republican Party chairman Joe Nosef said Bryant was being unfairly criticized by "liberal news outlets."
"He would never be critical of anyone for working and having a career — men or women," Nosef said. "The governor was simply pointing out the positive impact parents can have on the education of their children."