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What Do We Owe to Each Other?

What Do We Owe to Each Other?

For the past year or so I really enjoyed watching the series The Good Place. It’s funny, creative, thought provoking, human. And at its heart is exploration of the topic that Western philosophers began thinking about generations ago: what do we owe each other?

It’s not a simple question. I believe that the answer changes depending on where the individual is sitting--philosophically, economically, energetically--when pondering it. And each and every person’s answer to this question matters, which makes it very complex indeed.

As it happens, I’m sitting in my living room in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the first Friday afternoon in August. What brought me to this question on this day in particular is tremendous concern for the parents and children of our nation. All of them. And since the children are the future of our nation, my concern is great.

I have to say I really feel for working parents right now. By that I mean any and all parents who must rely on the fruits of their labors--some version of exchanging their time to provide a service or produce a product--to financially support their families. Based on my latest explorations of the impact of white supremacy (and those explorations are just beginning), I conclude that white parents are having an easier time of it than Black parents and other parents who do not identify with the dominant, white culture. This only increases my alarm.

The parents I know are suffering, mostly in silence, giving vent to their feelings through tweeting conversation snippets, ironic memes and references to drinking wine. All are doing their best--uncomplainingly soldiering on, looking for the positive for the sake of their own morale and their children. The creeping realization that they cannot count on even the basic support I could count on when raising my children--180 days of school, scheduled, supervised and essentially positive in impact: it is dawning on me that I may be witnessing a slow motion social Armageddon.

Is the tightness in my chest tears welling up in compassion for their brave struggle? Or is it the Covid? Who knows.

I want to start here: this is a love letter to each and every parent I know and have heard about, and all the others too.

Dear Parents of Children in 2020,

You brave, brave souls. I wish I could help more. I’m hoping you will ask me, if I have anything you believe you need that I can provide. 

I don’t want to add to your burden by creating the need to respond politely to me. But I want you to know that I am here, witnessing. In the shadows, my heart is breaking for what seems like an endless and unavoidable struggle that--if I were in your shoes--I might feel destined to lose. I have never admired anyone more. You, the Parents of Children in 2020, are, in my opinion, the new Greatest Generation.

Lately I don’t speak out much. This is my first blog post in over a year. I’ve felt almost struck dumb with the intensity, rate and impact of changes in the world. 

Since I have so much time to myself relative to active parents, my thoughts turn to the organization of our country and how we might learn from our challenges, and emerge from the chaos improved as people and as a society. 

Since beginning my graduate program in school psychology back in 2001--the Twin Towers falling within days of the start of that journey--I realized that any distinction between child care and education is completely fabricated and arbitrary. The illusion of a material difference between the two was established then put forth as fact by people who lacked--and refused to educate themselves about--even the most basic understanding of children. They lived long ago, but these days, that’s not enough to get people off the hook. So be it.

I think almost every parent--grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, neighbor, anyone who has or has had a child in their lives--understands that the line between caring for a child and educating a child is arbitrary. Spend time connecting with children and it becomes evident.

Children, by definition, are on an 18 year (as our society defines it now) developmental and educational journey. That journey is 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and it begins with their first breath. Every single experience a child has, every minute of their existence--even while sleeping--is preparation to become an adult, contributing citizen of not only their nation but their world.

In the US we have defined childcare--and some even have (not only meanly but short-sightedly) declared public education--as helping parents or as a service for parents. Many have said it is a “choice” to have children, casting blame on those who do so if they have not somehow managed to secure the financing in advance, anticipating every possible setback. Those same arbiters of others’ personal decisions frequently exert pressure to limit birth control and other family planning options of the citizenry, disproportionately impacting those who must dedicate a significant portion of their time and energy to self- and family-support. This circumstance often means they don’t have time to take so much interest in running the lives of others, or even to advocate for themselves. This strikes me as vulnerability personified.

Having children is, indeed, a choice. It has also been established by the US Supreme Court that decisions around family planning are--and are to remain--primarily a personal matter. And while the state has created agencies whose purpose is to assist in the supporting of children when lack of financial resources or unforeseen circumstances prevent the parent from doing so, the evolution of our social services, educational systems--and even the current law enforcement crisis--have shown that it is in our best interest to ensure that the basic needs of our young citizens are met.

When children’s physical, social, educational and emotional needs are not met, they flounder in their attempts to become contributing members of society as adults. And there is no net zero: if an individual is not contributing, they are in deficit--whether for reasons we consider defensible or not. That deficit must be paid for by someone. 

No ethically sound, financially successful individual that I am acquainted with truly enjoys it when their friends or relations call them asking for financial assistance. And yet, often with compassion for the individual in need, the thought arises that perhaps something more could have been done prior, to have better prepared the individual to meet their circumstances. 

The US educational system is ripe for an overhaul--a full reengineering from a new perspective. The Prussian education model designed to “train workers” probably never fit for a society whose stated goal at founding was to empower individuals in their own pursuits. I believe that the current K-12 educational system is dead, or for the purposes of compassion, decency and alignment with the beliefs of a free society, ought to be declared so.

The children who are not receiving the support they need today because our society demands too much of their parents, thereby compromising their parents’ ability to provide the nurturing (meeting children’s emotional needs as well as physical) they likely wish to give--those children will be making policy when those of my generation have moved to the vulnerable state of old age. It is not mere self-interest that makes me wish those children were receiving both the care and education they deserve. It is my fervent hope that in becoming fully realized, joyful humans they will take our planet to the next level of justice and compassion. 

Let’s get to work reconceptualizing and process reengineering education.

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