Child Watch® Column: "Lessons Learned From the Ark"

Release Date: July 22, 2011

Marian Wright Edelman

As we take stock of the current state of America's children and the desperate need to change directionfor the future, some ancient wisdom can give us a blueprint for setting sail and getting our childrento safe harbor. Everything our nation and all of us need to know about life can be learned fromNoah's Ark according to an anonymous writer.

Lesson One: Don't miss the boat. The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete inour globalizing world because we are not preparing the majority of our children for the future. The greatestthreat to America's national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure to invest in andeducate all of our nation's children. Every 11 seconds of the school day a child drops out. A majority ofchildren in all racial and income groups and almost 80 percent and more of Black and Hispanic children inpublic schools cannot read or do math at grade level in fourth, eighth, or 12th grade—if they have notalready dropped out. Any nation that is failing to prepare all of its children for productive work and lifeneeds to correct course—now. And all of us—parents, educators, community, religious and political leaders—need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. God did not make two classes of children.Every single child needs and deserves a quality education.

Lesson Two: We are all in the same boat. Many Americans may not like or think they have any selfinterest in assuring a fair playing field for other people's children—especially poor and minority children,but Black, Hispanic and other children of color will constitute a majority in 2019. Isn't it better to havethem supporting the Social Security and Medicare systems and making sure a productive workforce is inplace, rather than for us to be supporting them in costly ineffective prisons? Our states are spending threetimes more on average per prisoner than per public school student. I can't think of a dumber investmentpolicy. We need a paradigm change from punishment to prevention and early intervention.

Lesson Three: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark. Tomorrow is today and childrenhave only one childhood. They need to be healthy now. They need quality early childhood experiences now.They need first-rate schools with first-rate teachers and stimulating high quality out of school time programsnow. And they need to know that there is a good-paying job after college in their future. We must resist ourquick fix, quarterly profit driven culture and invest in the future.

Lesson Four: Don't listen to the critics and naysayers. Just get on with the job that needs to be doneto educate our children. If you don't want to be criticized, don't say anything, do anything, or be anything.Stand up and fight for children, all of them.

Lesson Five: For safety's sake, travel in pairs. Better still, travel in groups able to make a ruckus loudenough to be heard. We have got to stop those who are rhetorically hijacking Dr. King's and America'sdream but subverting his call to end the poverty, excessive militarism and excessive individualism that'skilling the dreams and hopes of millions of children. How can we justify massive tax giveaways to the richesttwo percent and continue tax loopholes for wealthy corporations at a time when 15.5 million children arelanguishing in poverty?

Lesson Six: Remember that the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals. Wemust all use our citizen power, and vote to wrest our ship of state from that small group of experts andpowerful corporate leaders who recklessly jeopardized all of our lives for personal gain. Use your own powerto make a difference.

Final Lesson: Build your future, build our children's future and our nation's future on highground. Let's leave our nation and world better than we found it—more just, more hopeful, morepeaceful, more productive, and more unified. This may be the first time in our history when our childrenand grandchildren will be worse off than their parents and grandparents. We must correct course with urgencyand do whatever is necessary to get them to safe harbor.

We have pushed so many of our children into the tumultuous sea of life in small and leaky boats withoutsurvival gear and compass. I hope God will forgive us and help our children to forgive us. I hope we willwork together with urgency to build the transforming movement required to give all of our children theanchors of faith and love, the rudder of hope, the sails of health and education, and the paddles of familyand community, to keep them safe and strong when life's sea gets rough.

 

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