David Brooks ("When Families Fail," NY Times Opinion, February 15, 2013) acknowledged the biggest elephant in the room when he wrote about the need for preschool for all kids:
"This is rude to say, but here’s what this is about: Millions of parents don’t have the means, the skill or, in some cases, the interest in building their children’s future. Early childhood education is about building structures so both parents and children learn practical life skills."
Great start. About time someone brought this up.
He's right, of course. Lots of kids grow up in families that do not have the background, training, skills or even commitment to help their kids succeed in an ever-increasing complex world. Unfortunately, as much as I admire Mr. Brooks and his honest and usually spot on perspective on various social issues, his solution to this core issue in addressing the education of our most vulnerable, is dead wrong:
"It’s about getting kids from disorganized homes into rooms with kids from organized homes so good habits will rub off. It’s about instilling achievement values where they are absent."
There is no evidence, zero, that the idea of "kids on kids" good habits "rub off," especially for their parents and families. Research consistently affirms that our most vulnerable children, those from families dealing with poverty, violence, racism, isolation, fatherlessness (and the list goes on), perpetuate what they receive from home. Where there is a cycle of violence, or poverty, for example, the child learns to expect that life is violent, and that acheivement is difficult if not impossible.
To expect "values" from "organizaed homes" will even begin to seep in and influence those homes desperate for guidance and support through 4- and 5-year-olds is the worst form of societal abandonment. It is the message that says, "Just observe us, you who are 'disorganized.' Receive by watching us the values you need to make sure your kid has the best chance at a successful life. As we model health, we know you'll 'get it' and change your ways."
Again, I'm grateful David Brooks brought it up. Families are the key to helping kids succeed. I am all for making preschool a national agenda, but without creating a system that brings families and educators together in partnership, it won't make a dent.
We need to rediscover our cultural commitment to our young - to ALL our young - that we had a century ago. As Compayre & Frost put it in 1907 (Horace Mann and the Public Schools in the United States, Pioneers in Education),
“Successive generations of mankind taken collectively constitute one great community. All the wealth which this community possesses it owes to all its children with a view to providing them with an education adequate to protect them from poverty and vice, and prepare them worthily to perform their civic and social duties. The successive holders of this wealth are merely its trustees, bound by the most sacred obligations to execute their mandate faithfully; and to divert this wealth from its true object, the education of the young, is a great crime, indeed a greater one, than similar breach of faith with contemporaries.”
Published on Friday, February 15, 2013 @ 12:00 PM CDT
For the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of spending some time walking with, listening to, and speaking into the minds and hearts of Young Life new Staff. This week I am with them again.
There are three reasons I love this opportunity:
First, there is something unique about Young Life people, and when lots of them collect, there is nothing like it. There is a raw edge to this breed, but it is an edge honed by compassion for the people that most adults shun – the 11 to 22 year old. There is a deep, refreshing sense of community. They laugh from the gut. They play hard, and they love hard.
Second, there is a razor sharp focus on their mission. Mike Yaconelli, who also used to love being around these guys, used to say youth ministry isn’t complicated, it’s about loving Jesus and loving kids. Sure, like most bumper stickers there is lots more loaded in there, but with Young Life people they have made this singular focus their only mission, and that dedication has served them well. They don’t apologize. They don’t back down. They don't get distracted. They simply love Jesus, and they will never stop loving kids.
Thirdly, with all the critique about Young Life folks acting as if they “get it” more than anyone else (and I don’t and never have agreed with that perception, but its out there), there is some substance behind the perceived swagger. You see, while it takes some doing to get their attention, precisely because they've been so committed and therefore are so good at what they do, once you prove that you care as much as they do, they’re incredibly engaged. I wouldn’t describe very many Young Lifers as teachable, per se, but I’d say that they want to know and learn and grow more than any group of people I’ve ever known. They are the most exciting bunch I’ve ever had the chance to teach.
And I get to spend a week with them. Man, oh man. What a gift!
Published on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 @ 4:39 PM CDT
In the interview with Katie Couric, Brian Te’o didn't set out to make a distinction that would embolden a national conversation. He was defending his son.
Lance Armstrong. Manti Te’o. Beyoncé?
Three stars. All accused, in one way or another, of perpetuating a lie, or at least a deception. The news has been all over it, and reaction has been unrelenting. From USA Today and the New York Times to CNN and ESPN, pundits and “experts” weigh in.
On either end of the controversy there is relative unanimity that shapes the dialogue. Armstrong is almost universally condemned for his intricately devious, calculated and strategic lie. Due to Beyoncé’s respect for the event and the President, in contrast, her decision to pre-record and sing to her own voice is a common tactic when singers are faced with weather, crowd and other logistical challenges that might affect their performance. For almost everyone, the former has been written off, and the latter has been exonerated, even praised.
But Manti Te’o intrigues us because, well, “he’s a kid.” Yet he is also an icon, an inspiration, a leader. How could he have done this? What was he thinking, especially once he learned the truth?
As the story unfolded, and Manti’s parents appeared with him on the Katie Couric show, his father, Brian, said “He’s not a liar. He’s a kid.” With that single statement, Brian Te’o forced us to look more carefully at what was at stake in this hyper-inflated controversy. Is Manti to be forgiven because of his age? He is, after all, just a kid. Or is this incident an example of a deeper, more sinister side to the Heisman finalist? For me, three thoughts come to mind.
First, Manti lied, pure and simple. He not only lied, he lied repeatedly, without nuance or subtlety. But, is he a liar? Yes and no. He is a young man who over and over again lied to cover up an embarrassing and quite public perception.
Secondly, and this is important, and I have yet to hear any of the pundits making this distinction: He lied, but that doesn’t mean he is a liar. Among the most common of ways we describe behavior, good or bad, is to assign an all-inclusive and permanent label on the person behind that behavior. When someone drinks too much, they are a drunk. When they make a good play or salvage an important game, they are a great athlete. And when someone lies, they are a liar. The label, then, becomes the person, the thing we remember, and we respond accordingly. The current focus fueling Manti’s circumstance is how will he be viewed as a pro. Will he lose endorsement deals? Is his character (another universal label that has a hard time slipping into the background of the public mind) at question? Can he be trusted as a teammate?
Lastly, Manti and Brian Te’o teach us a crucial lesson that we all know but so easily ignore when pressed by life’s circumstances: when we lie, the truth will eventually come out. Whether it is covering up drinking at a party, cheating on taxes, or telling the cop I only had one beer, with few exceptions we will be found out. And when we are, the consequences are always worse then they would’ve been had we been honest up front. Add to that the energy it takes to maintain a lie, and somehow deep inside we know that as hard as it is at first to admit, a hidden lie is as internally destructive as it is in public (I honestly don’t know how Lance Armstrong did it). But if Manti had come clean the day he found out he had been duped, it would have been painful, and yes, embarrassing. But it would have quickly faded and been remembered as a mistake by a famous but developmentally in transition college kid. The biggest issue, and what got him in this mess, is he perpetuated the lie.
It is what is hidden that ultimately reveals who we are.
Brian Te’o’s plea was straightforward. Give the kid a break. He made a mistake. Yes, he lied, but that doesn’t make him a liar. He is not necessarily worthy of a lifetime of penance over an adolescent response to a difficult situation. He should have received better counsel from his closest friends and coaches. Someone should have dug into this more deeply, and more quickly, and helped Manti to come clean, take the hit and be done with it. But he didn’t, and he’s paying quite a price.
By the way, I agree with Brian, 100%. The attention and scrutiny of this is comical, and at times worse, it is slipping into destructive. If Manti were your kid, what would you do? I would say, “Give him a break! He’s not a liar, he’s a kid!” Then I would turn to my son and say, “Let’s talk through, step by step, what happened, and why, and then see how we could learn from this. But, know this: I will always stand with you, because you are not a liar, you are my son, and I love and believe in you.”
Published on Friday, January 25, 2013 @ 12:32 PM CDT