Who speaks for children?


By Frank Wessling

The children are back in school, but how well are they learning?
Perhaps even more important, how many adults will sacrifice for the sake of the children? In a nation of singletons, where a growing percentage of the adult voting population has no personal investment in children, what happens to our investment in their education?
Less than one-third of American households now include children under the age of 18. An unknown but growing percentage of us are remaining childless for life. Stories on the cost of raising children are frightening: almost half a million dollars in the expensive northeast states — and that doesn’t include college costs. When childbearing is more clearly a choice, as it became after the birth control revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, the choice against children looks better all the time.
The cost of raising children in Iowa and most parts of the country are lower — averaging between $150,000 and $250,000, depending on location. Those numbers may not frighten as much but they draw attention. This form of investment in the future means serious money for most of us.
If we think about it, serious sacrifice is also in the equation.
As a growing portion of us decide against that investment, we should expect a similar loss of willingness to sacrifice for children. The trendy urban single person today doesn’t have much money left after spending for the current fashions in clothing, entertainment, travel and adult toys. She and he will tend to resist increases in school budgets or bond issues for new buildings.
A healthy environment for children and their education is built on more than a willingness to spend money, certainly. But money is an essential. We can debate how much and where it should be spent, but we must be willing as a society to spend — to sacrifice — for the children.
Religious people should be able to understand this. We tend to be more family centered, orientated more toward hope and investment in the future. Many of us already invest in religious schools as well as paying taxes for public schools. Ours tends to be a culture of community rather than individualism.
We have been in the past, and should expect to be in the future, the bedrock support for children. We may have to be more vocal about that. If society as a whole sees children more as a costly burden, an expense rather than an asset, we need to assert the opposite. Our voice should be a strong one in support of a good education for every child.
We live surrounded by advertising; bombarded by it almost everywhere. Virtually all of that noise is asking us to spend, to invest, in material things or services to satisfy desires of today. Very little of it invites us into the duty of caring for the healthy growth of children. We are asked to spend on pretty dresses, not lessons in English grammar or Spanish verbs or basic principles in physics.
Those of us who try to live by fundamental values and priorities are the best hope of today’s children. We should be in the thick of struggles to support and improve the education of each one.

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