January 11, 1995 in City

We All Share Success, Failure Of Children

Tommy Denton Fort Worth Star-Tel
 
Tags:column

An elementary school principal riding herd over 650 youngsters has plenty of run-of-themill problems common to every school, but when 200 of those children’s parents are incarcerated, educators must wonder at times whether the leaking boat is sinking faster than they - and the kids - can bail it out.

That Fort Worth school clearly is a grim exception in the extreme. Yet increasing numbers of children are coming to school from homes without the security of a stable family. Sadly, violence pervades their young lives.

A pathology of poverty and crime is threatening the very futures of many children, for whom the structure and behavioral expectations of the classroom are foreign to their experiences at home.

Addressing juvenile violence, TV journalist Bill Moyers wrote in the current edition of Parade magazine: “In its own research, the American Psychological Association traced the origins of violence to parental rejection or abuse, violence between parents and harsh physical discipline. Children learn violence at home, and the lessons are reinforced by the glorification of violence in the media, which treat cruelty and death as entertainment for profit.”

Hours spent with teachers in exploring the wonders of knowledge fade into irrelevance if students return to an environment indifferent to learning, possibly even hostile to the value of discipline that is essential to learning.

Without question, a culture of fear, cruelty and abandonment will stir responses of basic survival, which often prevail over what must seem to be false promises of the teacher’s urgings toward politeness, deference, order and the sweet love of learning.

Back in the ‘hood, the values are different, and in a culture of survival, those values are compelling.

Fort Worth Superintendent Thomas Tocco recently recalled a tour he took through a disadvantaged neighborhood.

“Old ladies would come to the door, and there would be five or six little children trailing behind,” Tocco said. “These great-grandmothers were bringing up a third generation. God bless them, but what happens to those children when they die?”

Too many grandmothers, God bless them, are expending their precious strength to compensate for the erosion of their communities, a family at a time. They are fighting desperately to hold together the fraying strands of the future, but they are worn and weary. They need help.

Gangs fill the void for many youngsters yearning for a sense of belonging and identity, a “family” to give context to an existence drained of essential emotional attachments.

Yet gangs are the cruelest of lies. Promising respect, they prey on fear and insecurity and enforce their cowardly codes through violence and intimidation. Ultimately, they spawn nothing but disrespect - for life, for everything.

Nearly 90 percent of the inmates in the nation’s prisons began their lives of crime in adolescence, some even in childhood. Most criminals are made, not born, and the culture that gives rise to gangs virtually guarantees the regeneration of the American criminal class.

As trite as the African proverb has become, it remains true: It takes an entire village to raise a child.

Deep undercurrents of violence and social hostility will not be stilled by the grandmothers, although they are a tremendous help. Schools alone will not turn the tide, although they can become the beachheads of hope where children can at least be introduced to the possibilities of dignity and genuine self-respect.

Young lives are at stake, and they deserve such an introduction if human decency is to have any meaning at all. Who will make that introduction to help salvage not only their personal potential but the security and integrity of a society that otherwise will continue to spend billions to erect prisons as the cost of indifference and neglect? The village must.

We all live in this village: businesses that will support schools and create meaningful jobs; parent-teacher organizations that will intensify their involvement; congregations that will take the hands and touch the hearts and souls of those in danger of being lost, and some who already may be; civic groups; youth groups; government officials - everyone who cares about this village and those who will live here.

Tom Tocco admits to an occasional surrender to hyperbole in his passionate quest to raise the aspirations and achievement of all children, but he did not exaggerate when he said: “That is the responsibility every one of us adults has for the future of our country.”

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The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Tommy Denton Fort Worth Star-Telepram


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