My junior high social studies teacher, Mr. Bice, once stated, “The two most important jobs in the world don’t require a license: being a parent and being a citizen.”
No truer words were ever said.
Being a parent and being a citizen both require a great deal of responsibility: the responsibility to be knowledgeable and educated; the responsibility to hold others accountable and the responsibility to behave in a way that we want our children to behave.
Even though most American say they are fed up with our elected officials in Washington, I can’t say we are being particularly responsible citizens. And if members of the House of Representatives were in school rather than in Congress, the principal would already have made phone calls to their parents.
Unfortunately, the American public hasn’t been acting like good parents either.
Good parents don’t tolerate bullying and name calling.
Good parents don’t tolerate individuals putting their own wants and desires above those of others.
And most of all, good parents don’t teach their children that money and power are more important than being caring, compassionate and trustworthy.
But that is exactly what is happening. We are letting Corporate America buy politicians and public opinion. Take, for example, Citizens United, which legalized the concept that corporations have the same rights as people. That’s like the school’s giving their business partners the same status as parents.
Unfortunately, too many people equate money with power and power with being important. If we want to change politics, we have to change that perception. I don’t know why that is so difficult as I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that most important people in my life never bought my respect. They earned it by giving their time to help others. They earned it by giving up something they wanted so someone else who needed it more. And they earned it by making choices that weren’t self serving.
None of that requires money, but it does require a sense of being powerful.
There are those who would argue that we lose power when we give something away. But I, for one, am not buying that. I’m not buying it at all. I’m more than willing to give my vote to someone who stands up for what I believe and not for what they think will meet their own desires.
In second grade, I was told I should never brag, and I took that admonishment to heart.
I have no recollection why I was boasting, but I do remember Carla Shown looked at me with disdain and said, “No one likes people who brag.”
Her words have stayed with me, but there are times when we have to balance the lessons we learned in our childhood with our experience as adults.
Now is one of those times, and I am going to brag a bit.
I am a product of Head Start.
I feel an obligation to brag, because the voices of low-income children aren’t being heard above the clamor about Syria.
Head Start provides early childhood education, health and nutrition services as well as parent support for low-income children and their families. The services are designed to foster stable family relationships and address early childhood developmental needs.
Research tells us that children who have been through Head Start and Early Head Start are healthier, more academically accomplished, more likely to be employed, commit fewer crimes and contribute more to society.
Common sense tells us that the future of our country hinges on our children, and we should invest in our future.
Unfortunately, common sense often doesn’t prevail on Capitol Hill, and, as a result of sequestration, Head Start has eliminated services for more than 57,000 children this school year. The program is facing even more cuts in the future.
We are going backwards.
Head Start began in 1965, and, because of where I lived, I was enrolled in the program in the early 1970’s. I still have the report cards that documented my progress at mastering a list of tasks and skills and the photos from graduation ceremonies.
At first glance, the photos of my Head Start graduation don’t tell much of a story. There is no indication that the chubby little girl in the red dress would grow up to be the outspoken person I have become. Nor does it indicate that the little boy in the striped pants would someday graduate from Dartmouth.
But it does show what hope looks like, and if we don’t do something to meet the needs of our children now, we will be seeing fewer and fewer of such photos in the future.