18 October 2013

Our Children, Our Communities, Our Destiny  

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We all have a vested interest in the education of our children, whether we have them or not; whether they are our children or the kids across town.

Yet, when we see a child in our community who plays heavily in drugs and violence, who makes us shake our head every time we see him, our first natural inclination is to think, “Where are the parents?”

The real question should be: “Where were you?”

Education begins before the first day of school; it begins the very moment a child is brought into the world. And because of this, most children today are either “won” or “lost” before they become school-age.

Early childhood education is so vital—not only to see if Tommy can play well with others—but because it is when a child will develop his first and potentially most important routine: what to do after school.

I was lucky enough to have loving and strict parents. After the school bus dropped me off, I sat down at the kitchen table to do my homework—maybe not because I wanted to, but because fear of my father’s wrath outweighed any positive effects I'd gain from playing with my LEGOs for the thousandth time.

Contrast my anecdote with a family of three children, one mother and a drug-dealing dad in jail in Baltimore. The kids get home from school and mom is usually nowhere to be found. Sometimes she is there, of course, but oftentimes it’s with another man or she’s screaming her head off at them. They don’t stay inside long, even if it’s raining.

These kids start out playing hopscotch, maybe eventually exploring beyond their city block. New friends come along, and hopscotch becomes a pick-up game of ball, becomes a few pushes and shoves and hurt feelings, becomes rival gangs, becomes drugs and foolish violence, becomes a too-young casualty of the streets, becomes just about anything we can’t stand on the evening news.

There is an old saying that goes, “there is no substitute for good parenting.”

Except maybe, there is:  a good community.

I wish the world was full of good parents; it is not. Yet our willingness to curse the bad parents also curses the children, and one bad parent with five kids may unfortunately become five bad parents with twenty-five kids.

Throughout America, there are streets we don’t feel safe on. We call them eyesores, ghettos  slums. Yet children are there, born and created equal, that will quickly and quietly lose that equality before they have the chance to learn that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

In this country, a child is born with at least two families:  her immediate one and her community. So while it is true that parents have a responsibility to their children, so does a community to all its young ones. This encompasses the simple--remembering birthdays, dinner invitations, time at the library--and the potentially difficult--giving Johnny a place to sleep at night when things are rough at home or taking Suzy to the hospital when we notice bruises on her skin.

A community is more than color of skin, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. It is strongest when every child, without exception, is included and encouraged. Our great destiny as a nation relies on our ability, even in the smallest of towns, to reach out, swallow our fears or excuses and ensure that every child can see the light of day.

Every time we lose a child, we lose a good soldier in the Army. We lose a role player in the local economy. We lose an emergency worker who will save the lives of others. We lose a good citizen, and we lose a good parent. And once we lose the parent, the cycle is far more likely to repeat itself—and there we are again, asking, “Where are those parents?”

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