By Dan Coulter
What’s a child worth in the United States?
I don’t mean in dollars, but sometimes it comes down to that. Many of us spend a lot of our personal income on our kids.
Politicians often say kids are our future. But when it comes to elected representatives putting money and resources into schools and programs for kids, we see how much our kids are really worth to this country.
Before you read farther, be warned: I think we ought to treat education in America like we treated the space program in the 1960’s. We got fired up and set a national goal of reaching the moon. We threw some of our brightest minds at the goal, spent billions and achieved it. Doesn’t educating this country’s kids deserve an even higher priority?
Just 14 years after we set foot on the moon, I remember hearing a news story about the USA’s overall “school grade.” It was 1983, and the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued a report titled: “A Nation at Risk.” It made headlines, partly because of its chilling conclusion, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."
That was more than 20 years ago, and we’re still reading stories about US students falling farther and farther behind kids in other countries.
Anyone care to predict how long America will remain a world leader if we continue to fall behind -- and send jobs overseas? Anyone? Anyone?
Want this country to be a better place 20 years from now? Want your life to be better? Want creature comforts, reduced crime, clean air and good roads? Want good jobs, a strong tax base, good health care and Social Security benefits? Want a reduced threat from terrorism? Start right now working to give every kid a great education. And I’m not just talking about your kid and my kid. I mean EVERY kid in the country. Kids we think of as average. Kids who have special abilities or disabilities. Kids who can’t be easily labeled. Because each one is worth it.
Think of it as training a nation of problem solvers who can make things better for all of us.
I’ve heard people say we can’t solve our educational problems by throwing money at them. Of course not. But I’d hate to think that’s just an excuse for not spending more money on education. Funding is a key resource – and there’s nothing wrong with throwing money at a problem if you make sure it hits the right place.
It’s amazing to hear some politicians talk about fixing our public schools by “holding them accountable” and withholding funding if they don’t measure up. Hello? They’re OUR schools! Want to see who’s accountable? Want to see who gets hurt if they fail? Quick, find a really big mirror and let’s all take a look!
The people who built this country understood that support for public schools is critical to the American way of life.
Thomas Jefferson said it well:
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,
It expects what never was and never will be.
We need more than money. We need a national commitment and resolve to make our public schools the envy of the world. Every kid we educate, really educate, makes us stronger. Every kid who falls through the cracks makes us weaker. If individual schools are not doing the job, we need to do whatever it takes to bring them up to speed.
You never know which kid may make a difference in our lives. Whether it’s by inventing a cure for cancer or running a company that offers good jobs or just by having self-respect and paying his own way or helping us see our own humanity.
It’s election season and an excellent time to tell candidates that you want more resources focused on education. Not empty promises. Not slogans. Real resources and real programs.
Because the U.S. Constitution leaves K-12 education primarily in the hands of the states, we need to tell state office seekers this is a priority. But the federal government also plays a crucial role, particularly in leadership and funding. Personally, I’d like to see the next president appoint a commission of some our brightest minds to set ambitious national education goals and come up with a specific action plan with budget figures attached. Then I’d like to see us all get behind that plan and make sure it doesn’t just get lip service – but has some real teeth in it.
That’s the way to give every kid every opportunity to make this country better and stronger for all of us.
It’s not just about helping our own kids. Or maybe it is. Because they’re all our own kids.
What’s a child worth?
A child is worth our future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is producer of, “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills” and other educational videos – and the father of two children in college. You can find more articles on his website at www.coultervideo.com.
Copyright Dan Coulter 2004 Used by Permission All Rights Reserved