Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It Takes a Village... raise a child. Or at least an extended family. We independently minded Americans have, in the most recent 100 years, scoffed at the village idea, creating "nuclear families" instead, far removed from the old hometown. Pioneers, like our forebears, we brazenly set forth to go it alone, except for the wealthy who can afford nannies and tutors to help with the long-term project of raising kids. In addition, the now adult children of my son's generation who are now in their twenties, are often "only-ies", or perhaps one of a pair, which means that their children will have fewer aunts and uncles to fall back on for guidance when the parents are either not around or emotionally unavailable to them, for whatever reason.

We care less about struggling individual kids, than raising the test scores of individual schools, more about saving the school district's bottom line than ensuring the successful adulthood of today's children. Today's chldren are going to be tomorrow's adults, and they will either be tomorrow's responsible citizens supporting the community's seniors (namely, me), or tomorrow's failures lying in the gutters themselves, figuratively if not literally.

It is a shame that some school districts neglect many of these children. They are OUR children, all of them, for they are the next generation of the world. They are the generation that will have to figure out how to stop global warming from excelerating, the generation that will have medical miracles available to them that we can only imagine, the generation that will find ways for technology to improve our lives that we dare not dream of. But only if we give them the education and the skills to do so.

I would like to think that they will also be the generation to allow each individual to reach his or her highest potential, due to strides in technology. Physically limiting school districts could be a thing of the past; everyone could learn on the same level playing field. Why should it cost more to educate a child in inner New York city than it does in rural Alabama? Why should the level of every student's education not be same? Why could we not easily tailor programs to help individual student needs? Why should inept teachers get tenure when the rest of us (at least the non-union rest of us) can be fired at some manager's whim?

My 16 year old nephew could definitely benefit from some additional help, additional help that the local school district refuses to acknowledge is needed and refuses to pay for, even after a two-day independent study was done and a ten page report was issued by a well-respected third party institution, which stated that, in their opinion, although highly functional, he is on the autism spectrum. What does it take to open our eyes and see that ignoring the problem and denying him additional assistance helps no one in the long run, certainly not my nephew, and very probably not the community my nephew will live in as an adult. It won't help his future employer, it won't help his future children, it won't help his parents who may need his support in their old age. It won't help our younger generation of Americans, who will be striving, and possibly struggling, to maintain the fairly high standard of living which most of us have gotten used to in the United States.

It is too late to change the institution of education for my nephew; he is, after all, a junior in high school and his mother is tired of constantly fighting with the school system, although I don't think she will ever give up. She has an advocate, someone well versed in autism, someone to help her navigate the complicated educational system, someone to listen to her trials and tribulations with the school district. My brother is busy this time of year filling out the annual financial aid forms for his older child, his daughter, a bright college student. And so, to help fill some of the gaps, I bought some books for my nephew to read on his own, in prepartion for college and life-after-high-school. But with no one to encourage him, he is unlikely to read them, especially with band and chorus practice and the never ending cycle of homework.

With everyone so busy, and me not currently commuting and sitting behind a desk five days a week, the encouragement piece of the equation might be up to me. Maybe my participation in the local village is part of the cosmic reason I ended up on my east coast sabbatical in the first place.


  1. The system today is just push the kids through, it's almost everywhere like that.
    GED's and out they go, Nobody can fix the mess, inspite of the good intestions of some individuals.

  2. i see much of the same here. i work with kids that need that extra attention and with each IEP meeting, it seems to get harder and harder...