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Getting back to education

Posted: October 5, 2010 3:39 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2010 5:00 a.m.

People in this country are struggling. This isn’t news -- you read it in every paper and hear it on every news station.
So when the Census revealed last month that 1 in 7 Americans was living in poverty in 2009, sadly, I’m not sure many people were surprised.

Anyone living in poverty is an unfortunate tale. Children living in poverty, however, is a tragedy.

Worse than the national figure of 14 percent, the Census reported that nearly 1 in 4 children in South Carolina is living in poverty. Disgusted, angry, heartbroken – that’s how I felt when I learned of this, and you should feel the same, especially if you’re a parent. “Certainly 25 percent of children in this great state in this great country can’t be impoverished,” you might say. You’d be wrong.

The statistics on impoverished children and how it relates to education are dismal. Save the Children, a non-profit devoted strictly to children’s causes, says “4-year-old kids living in poverty are 18 months behind their peers and 2 out of 3 fourth graders are not reading at grade level. These gaps in early childhood stay with these kids for rest of their lives, leading to increased high school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy and unemployment.”

(Census statistics and how poverty is determined can be found at www.census.gov.)

Regardless of your thoughts on how government is handling our struggles, you can’t claim the problems came about overnight. Likewise, solutions aren’t quick or easy. Bailouts, stimulus, health care, wars -- the success and significance of these issues can be debated.

But the importance of ensuring our youth are educated -- not to mention not living in poverty -- simply isn’t a question. A new education documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” released the same month as the poverty figures, talks about the U.S. education crisis. The film chronicles the lives of five “achingly adorable children and their hopeful, dedicated, worried parents in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.,” Gail Collins wrote in her New York Times column last week. “Waiting for Superman” shows the agony of families whose children aren’t selected in a charter school lottery, because now they must attend the failing urban public schools in their community.

Collins goes on to talk about charter schools and the oft-praised Geoffery Canada, the chief of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is aimed at breaking the cycle of generational poverty for the thousands of children and families it serves in New York. Canada is often seen as the face of education reform.

Collins also talks about President Obama’s Race to the Top program, which makes schools across the country prove they are dedicated to improving and have a plan to do so.

Charter schools often get a bad rap. Critics say they’re taking dollars away from our public schools, which they are. But with public education continuing on a downward spiral, shouldn’t someone be searching for alternatives? This is what many, thought not all, charter schools are doing -- providing a choice for parents and students.

The success of Race to the Top can’t be gauged yet, but President Obama has at least made education a priority.

Creativity and innovation are going to be vital in enhancing learning for our children.

Still, adjustments made on paper and funding aren’t the only solutions. Instilling passion, letting creative, ripe minds flow free is what matters. Young people can have all the ability and tools at their disposal, but without drive, motivation and passion they won’t reach their potential. In addition to teachers, this passion has to be instilled by parents and families.

Parents’ devotion to education and work ethic is something that made America special. As figures show, it’s what we’ve gotten away from in the past 20 to 25 years. We have to get back to it.

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