Keeping In Mind…

Posted: March 26, 2008 in Children, Employment, Homelessness, Morality

Most scientists believe that the ability to use tools is a sign of higher intelligence. That is what makes many believe that human beings are the highest form of life on the planet.

However, we know that there are certain species in the animal world that use tools also: primates in Africa use "tools" to gather termites from the giant mounds for food; Pacific sea otters use rocks to break open shell fish; Some birds have learned to drop seed pods onto large rocks in order to break open the pods allowing them to get to the inner seeds.

In my opinion, the greatest tool that homo sapiens have at their disposal is the human mind.  

It is the seat of human consciousness. It is capable of logical thinking. It has the capacity to reason. It can imagine things. It can wonder. It can even make leaps of intuition.

Even computers, which I love being around, are only a weak attempt to mimic the workings of the human mind. There is no machine on this planet that can begin to come close to the "computational" capabilities of the human mind. Period.

Although there are certain things which are "hard coded" into the mind, it is still "extensible" in that it can be trained; expanded – and in some ways, "programmed" with various types of knowledge. It is highly adaptable. But, it can also be extremely fragile. Yet, with all of that, there is nothing that can compare to it.

Keeping all of that in mind (forgive the pun) …

Over the last seven or eight years we’ve all be bombarded with the talk of "no child left behind" legislation.

While I applaud the premise, I wonder if such legislation will – or can – even begin to come close to its ideal. Considering how many children there are in the nation and especially considering how many of them are homeless, it seems to me that there are quite a number of children who will continue to be left behind.

The only possible way of ensuring that no child is indeed left behind would be to guarantee that all of this nation’s 1.35 million homeless children become housed. To accomplish that legislation would also have to be passed for the funding of substantial aid to those families who are homeless – that is unless the intention is to "house" those children by placing all of them into foster care or some other Child Protective Services facility.

I’m sure that there are people who would give no second thought to taking children away from parents who are homeless and making them wards of the state, but I’m not one of them.

Homeless children are already disadvantaged by their homelessness. Taking them away from their families for anything less than some type of abuse would be morally wrong. And, in my opinion would cause more harm to the child than it would do good.

In Life in the Clearing, Canadian author, Susanna Moodie wrote,

"The want of education and moral training is the only real barrier that exists between the different classes of men."

Education has been called the great equalizer. Almost everyone agrees that a quality education is paramount at being able to get ahead in today’s world. It is the social mechanism by which a person can potentially escape a life of poverty. Yet, there are one million plus homeless children who aren’t being afforded that opportunity.

During the time that I was a "client" of the local homeless shelter in SLO, I saw the faces of many children. I used to watch as the school aged children would sit outside after dinner in the evenings on the dark rear and side patios and try doing their homework. I often wondered how – or if – they were able to concentrate on their school assignments amid the cacophony of people and sounds.

According to the fact sheet "Education of Homeless Children and Youth," published by the National Coalition for the Homeless,

Homelessness has a devastating impact on homeless children and youth’s educational opportunities. Residency requirements, guardianship requirements, delays in transfer of school records, lack of transportation, and lack of immunization records often prevent homeless children from enrolling in school.

In addition to enrollment problems, the high mobility associated with homelessness has severe educational consequences.

Every time a child has to change schools, his or her education is disrupted. According to some estimates, 3-6 months of education are lost with every move.

It bothers me when people think that the cure all for homelessness is for the homeless to "apply themselves by getting off their butts and going out and getting a job."

Currently, 4.8% of America’s workforce is unemployed. Those American’s who are fortunate enough to have employment, but are unfortunate enough to lack a quality education are forced to work jobs that cannot keep up with the ever increasing price of housing, let alone other costs.

Our nation’s children, whether homeless or housed, are the future. They are the ones in whose hands the direction of our nation will take over the course of the next two or three decades. Those of my generation will be at the mercy of the decisions they make. It seems to me then, that it would be in our best interest to find ways of ensuring that the future leaders of this country are as well educated as possible.

I don’t find it "smart" that, as a nation, we will give NASA tens of billions of dollars in discretionary budget spending each year so that they can study the vast cosmos, yet we don’t seem to be willing to spend what is necessary so that the children of this nation can study the three R’s.

The greatness of a nation is revealed in its treatment of its children – regardless of the "social standing" of those children. The strength of a nation is contingent upon the overall prosperity of its populace. The brightness of a nation’s future is dependant on the ability of its future leaders to make educated and informed decisions.

The United Negro College Fund uses the slogan, "A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste"

Unless we are willing to do what is necessary to help our nation’s homeless children reach their full educational potential, we will be guilty of "wasting" the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.

Maybe we ought to keep that in mind.

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