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Kindergarten behavior lessons offer response for national economic woes

Being kind, fair and responsible are three of the ongoing lessons at the school where my grandson is a kindergartner.  The list and its definitions are posted on his reading wall at home as a reminder.

Could we add that to our national agenda? There isn’t an area in our life together that couldn’t be more felicitous if those qualities were running as background programs.

It’s easy to feel that, as a nation, we have too many problems to solve:  unemployment, lack of economic growth, governmental stalemate, state and local budget crises, too many failing schools, high dropout rates, an intimidating federal deficit, a deteriorating social safety net, two wars entered without exit plans, toxic verbal exchanges in place of reasoned discussion, widespread fear and distrust.

Faced with complexity, we look for simplicity and, often, someone to blame,  but our present economic situation and the social upheaval that has come with it are not going to yield to simplistic thinking.  Most problems are interlocking.  A solution in one area may have unintended consequences in another.

We seem near consensus that our educational system needs work.  Dropout rates are high. Support services are low.  As more people lose their jobs, tax revenue drops, budgets tighten, classes in non-required subjects are dropped, teachers are cut, classes are larger, and teachers are less able to give individual attention.

Reorganizing to use the growing body of research on best practices requires spending to train teachers and provide materials.  We’re back to vanishing tax revenue.

Schools don’t operate in isolation.  After school or after dinner, many children head for the public library.  Many school libraries have been cut to a few days a week or eliminated, and the public library system is having problems.  Library boards are tightening budgets through a combination of cutting staff, programs, service hours or branches.  Evenings and Saturdays often go first.  Branches are eliminated in the areas with the least political clout—the poorest.

In Spokane, the amount to keep a branch open is almost the same as a pay raise for library staff.  The “solution” is just a one-year fix for an ongoing problem.

As a retired reference librarian whose family came from lower rungs of the economic ladder, I could go into a hymn of praise about delights of discovering libraries when I was in grade school and opportunities that opened for me.  I could rant about the shortsightedness of depriving anyone of the wealth of resources and the personal mentoring delivered economically by community libraries. 

A circle of inter-relatedness shows up in many areas.  As more people are forced into poverty, they must navigate the social service system, which has problems, too.

Because of state budget shortfalls in Oregon and Washington, state employees are taking one-day, unpaid furloughs each month.  Services suffer.  The measure saves jobs and seems fair, because each contributes a day’s pay per month, but it is particularly hard on people with lower incomes. It also means less money flows into the economy.   So what can we do?

We can do what we can do for the greater good in our own families, neighborhoods and organizations.  We can set a good example by being kind, fair and responsible and we can insist our leaders listen to where we really want to be led.

Nancy Minard - editorial team


Copyright © December 2010 - The Fig Tree