Children born and educated in South Carolina are among the least likely in the nation to be successful in life," according to a Maryland-based research center that conducted a study for Education Week, a nationally circulated magazine. The report is titled "From Cradle to Grave."
This report heralds a very dangerous prediction, and I reject it. I reject it because those of us who care for South Carolina's children will not allow adverse conditions to snuff out their chance for successful lives. Poverty has always been with us. Not many of us have escaped its cold and harsh touch. But in our human spirit, deep down, existed a belief that we would rise above it and claim a life of admirable quality.
I ADMIT THAT the statistics on children in South Carolina are disheartening. Data compiled by the National Center for Children in Poverty is bleak. The center presents the following statistics on children in South Carolina:
- Forty percent of children in South Carolina live in families where the income is below the federal poverty level ($37,700 per year for a family of four).
- Young children in South Carolina are more likely to live in low-income families.
- Forty-five percent of children younger than 6 live in low-income families.
- Eighty-eight percent of children whose parents do not have a high school diploma live in low-income families.
- Fifty-eight percent of children whose parents have a high school diploma but no college education live in low-income families.
- Sixty-two percent of children in low-income families are more likely to live with a single parent.
- Sixty percent of black children live in low-income families.
- Twenty-eight percent of white children live in low-income families.
The median income in South Carolina is $59,212, compared to the national average of $63,278.
To complement the saying "It takes a village to raise a child," there is a less-frequently recited African proverb that says, "The strength of a nation exists in the home." This proverb has universal application. The home is where the healthy development of children is nurtured. So it seems to me that if enough attention is given to ensuring that adults are productive in society, children would be adequately cared for. And I think this could be accomplished community by community.
The following approaches may move us expeditiously in a promising direction:
Reflect on a time in history when families helped each other, especially for the sake of children - buying items that a nephew or a niece might need; sharing food, an egg, a cup of sugar.
Churches might increase their outreach program, specifically targeting homes where children are; larger churches might partner with smaller, less resourceful churches to help families in desolate communities where young children live.
Business and industry might consider education and community outreach programs at their site where prospective employees (who have young children) may become employment ready.
Schools must ensure literacy and critical analysis competence for all pupils at every grade level.
Schools must ensure that pupils are equipped with reading and advanced comprehension skills at every grade level, through 12th grade, and that programs are explored to keep pupils who are prone to drop out of school connected to some unique educational program, even if the program is not in the regular school setting.
The relationship between schools and communities need to amount to more than a simple cliche - real connections and partnerships must exist.
LOCAL, STATE AND federal legislators need to find ways to provide medical services to poor children, because an unhealthy child finds it impossible to engage in learning; social service agencies can collaborate with schools and community associations to ensure that services are provided to those with the greatest need.
Local, state and federal legislators need to exhaust efforts and influence to place industry in areas of the state (e.g., Allendale, etc.) to provide employment opportunities so that families can become self-sufficient.
To be poor could be a temporary condition, if we would help heads of families become providers for their children. The home is where it matters most. And if we can help homes become environmentally healthy places for children - homes that are supported by love, sweat from the gainful employment of fathers and mothers, and support from those of us who are just a little more fortunate - we can ensure success for our children in South Carolina. This is our charge; this is our obligation.
(Editor's note: The writer is associate superintendent of Edgefield County schools.)