• by Bradley Scott, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • April 1996 •
In this election year, I sincerely hope that parents, concerned citizens, educators and business people are seeking real answers to the questions about the status of children. In a publication entitled, An Invitation to Your Community: Building Community Partnerships for Learning, the Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, commented:
“We do know that we must set high expectations – challenging academic standards – for all children. And we must do whatever it takes to help every child reach those expectations. Thats what Goals 2000 is about and what President Clintons whole approach to education is built aroundIts not going to be easy. But, together, we can reinvent [U.S.] education – school by school and community by community. Together, we can move toward the National Education Goals and move every child toward achieving high levels of learning” (1995).
We are well aware of the National Education Goals, particularly Goal 1: By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn. There are three objectives for this goal:
- All children will have access to high-quality and developmentally appropriate preschool programs that help prepare children for school.
- Every parent in the United States will be a child’s first teacher and devote time each day to helping such parents preschool child learn, and parents will have access to the training and support they need.
- Children will receive the nutrition, physical experiences and health care needed to arrive at school with healthy minds and bodies and to maintain the mental alertness necessary to be prepared to learn, and the number of low-birth weight babies will be significantly reduced through enhanced prenatal health systems.
Despite such promising words, the status of children has not improved as much as we would hope. In fact, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) issued a caution last year about the new federal climate:
“Prospects for improving the lives of American children worsened dramatically with the election of new ideological majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The newly elected House leadership proposed a radical legislative agenda that would rip away basic support for families and tear up long-standing social compacts between generations of Americans” (1995).
In the State of America’s Children Yearbook 1995, CDF reported that the status of children is questionable regarding many areas of concern that would help to make preschool children ready to meet high expectations and standards (1995). CDF provides some eye opening information on children’s status:
- 15.4 million U.S. children were poor in 1993 – the highest number in 30 years.
- Poor children are three times more likely than nonpoor children to die during childhood.
- Poor children are two times more likely than other children to suffer from physical problems such as stunted growth, severe mental or physical disabilities, iron deficiency and severe asthma as a result of their poverty.
CDF also reported that more than 60 percent of married women with children younger than six are in the labor force. More than 57 percent of children younger than five whose mothers work are in either family child care homes or child care centers. While 650,000 poor children participate in Head Start, that number only represents 36 percent of those who are eligible, and Head Start still is not funded to support all of the children who are eligible for it.
Children are hungry. More than half of all food stamp recipients are children, while children make up only slightly more than one-fourth of the US population. Forty-two percent of children receiving food stamps are Anglo American; 35 percent are African American; 17 percent are Latino, 3 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program provided nutrition assistance to 6.5 million children in 1994, about 72 percent of those eligible. Children are hungry particularly in the summer, if they are not in school. Nearly 2.1 million children benefited from the Summer Food Service Program which is only 9 percent of the more than 18 million children who benefit from free and reduced lunch programs during the school year.
One year has passed since CDF issued that report. The thought had occurred to me that possibly the status of children could be showing signs of improvement, given the national cry for responsibility, accountability, improved fiscal management and other agreements contracted with America. But, as I sift through the just- released 1996 CDF report, I see that, while selected areas such as preschool immunizations have improved slightly and there is a modest decline in teen pregnancy, overall, people who are poor are not faring any better. It appears that, although the economy is improving, people – and particularly poor people and their children – are still in economic distress. They are even under attack.
The CDF provides a summary of key proposed legislation that threatens to remove the floor of decency that guarantees help for poor children. A portion of that summary is provided in the box on Page 4.
Marion Wright Edelman of the CDF offers seven ways that adults must stand for children. Even though she accepts that there is certainly a need to balance the national budget, she says that it should not be done on the backs of poor, disabled, neglected and abused children and not without a debate based on the facts about the human consequences.
One of her seven proposals is a national day of commitment to be held on June 1, 1996, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The nonpartisan, nonpolitical Stand For Children Day will be a day of spiritual, family and community renewal and personal commitment to children. In standing, mothers, fathers, grandparents, nurturers, caregivers, religious people, community leaders, civil rights advocates, youth, women, men, professionals, and cultural, business and political leader of every race, religion, income, age and faith will demonstrate their support to do the following:
- Stand together and speak truth to power for children with their presence, voices, votes and hearts.
- Stand for something more than themselves, more important than money and more lasting than things.
- Stand with those who cannot stand alone or for themselves: the young, the weak, the disabled.
- Stand strong for a few important things rather than for many desirable things. People who try to be everything to everybody end up standing for nothing or anybody.
- Stand and be counted for children in good times and bad. Children do not need fair weather advocates and God does not need fair weather soldiers.
- Stand unwaveringly for this countrys values of fairness and equality; for compassion and common sense; stand against callous people and policies.
- Stand tall against those who seek to hurt and divide, and stand with those who seek to unite and heal our families and communities.
- Stand firmly against those who practice genderhood and racehood and classhood and culturehood, and stand with those who practice brotherhood and sisterhood and mutual respect.
- Stand up to those who mouth family values but who do not support family needs and who vote to cut Head Start and school lunches and education in the name of helping children.
Dear children of America, take caution, the road we are asking you to take may be strewn with deceptive smoking mirrors, gaping holes and obstacles that will make your achieving the goal of readiness by the year 2000 virtually impossible. Before you go, just wait a moment for the responsible, committed, politically-active adults among you to ensure that the road is properly prepared. At the very minimum, that is our moral, ethical, political and civic responsibility to you.
Okay. Moral, ethical, politically, civically responsible adults, take you mark. Ready. Set. Go.
Children’s Defense Fund. The State of America’s Children Yearbook 1996 (National Association for the Education of Young Children: Washington, DC, 1996).
Children’s Defense Fund. The State of America’s Children Yearbook 1995 (National Association for the Education of Young Children: Washington, DC, 1995).
US Department of Education. A Bright New Era in Education (US Department of Education: Washington, DC, 1995).
US Department of Education. An Invitation to Your Community: Building Community Partnerships for Learning (US Department of Education: Washington, DC, 1995).
Bradley Scott is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]