Issue 63: Our Children

By: The Buzz

We don’t need to look in far away places to see the suffering of children. Right here in Rockland we have many children growing up in poverty and otherwise in difficulty, often with only one parent, subject to the ravages of drug abuse, despair and violence at home; and to ridicule and failure in school.

There once were happy stories, quietly told, of neighbors helping children who were struggling, but these stories are getting fewer, drowned out by the media cacophony of fear. We are increasingly segregated by class, and the more fortunate among us have become increasing focused on our liability, rather than on our responsibility.

We fear to be blamed if we act individually, so we rely on “social services” to help the children. We would rather report the troubled family to the authorities than intervene personally. We agree that helping our community’s children is a social obligation, but we choose to fulfill this obligation by supporting official and “professional” action. We act through these agents, and keep our distance.

The children come into contact with our agents through the welfare system, and at the public schools. The Department of Human Services provides food stamps, a check, and subsidized (and mostly segregated) housing. The School Unit provides, or is supposed to provide, an education for all children, and a system for grading them – by which system many of our children, and especially the children of less affluent families, are not doing well.

Meanwhile, the lower classes are increasingly downward mobile, the children faring worse than their parents. They are in a worsening cycle of despair, addiction, and incarceration, and increasingly they become a burden on the rest of us.

What is most tragic is that these children are not worse than other children. They are bright and eager, at least at first, before they are beaten down. With our help they could become successful and productive, an asset, not a burden.

They key is education, an insight which, of course, is a cliché. What do we mean by that word? To some it means something akin to Chairman Mao’s “re-education:” indoctrination, the stuffing of heads with the “appropriate” idea.

The children of the poor, and many others, are failing in school not because they cannot learn, but because they are not emotionally and intellectually suited to what has become the standard school indoctrination system. Indeed many children, even from more affluent families, and especially boys, are not so suited. Some of these families may be able to pay for private school, but for less affluent children, and for their public school teachers, there is little choice.

What we need, above all, is a greater variety of learning choices for our children and for their teachers. We need opportunities for interest-based, child-powered, education, not just mandated state-standard rote education. There is more to life than abc123.

Learning without interest is like eating without appetite. We can do it, but our race would surely die if we did not have appetite and interest.

So how do we get there? How do we honor the word “equality” in our Constitution? It is not enough just to make demands on the professionals, on the social workers and public school teachers. We cannot afford to “leave it to the pros.” We must act as a community, as volunteers, as amateurs.

It may not be possible, in these times, for us, as individuals, to go back to helping neglected neighborhood children. The culture, for the moment, is hostile to such interactions, and often these children are segregated from our neighborhoods.

What we can do is to work together as volunteers in community ventures that offer educational opportunities. Trekkers is one example, The Apprenticeshop is another, and Station Maine, and the Children’s Museum, the Sail and Steam Museum, Penobscot School, Riley School, the YMCA, Little League, and many others.

Helpful community ventures include not only non-profit organizations, but also small businesses. Our shops and restaurants, yards and factories, all are potential universities in which our children can learn to become self-reliant, useful, and successful.

There is a way of thinking in which the failure of some is our success, in which our relative privilege is more important than the success of our community. This is wrong, both morally and practically. All of us benefit from productive community; justice, not injustice, is our friend. Whatever advantage some of us may gain over others, is paid for in lost happiness and productivity of the whole.

Our children are our future. Together, we are the best judge of what is in their interest, and in our community interest. Together we become the most effective instrument for our common progress. That is the genius of democracy. E pluribus unum.

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