I just finished a short, 5-part series that took a look at the recently released “State of American Children” report. Most significant of all is this:1 out of every 5 children in American lives in poverty.
For some of you, statistics is all that you need in order to match your head and heart to the alarming nature of what this represents. For others, numbers are too cold to capture the full weight, and you need to look at it from another angle.
I have consistently found the poetic voice of Dr. Marian Wright Edelman helpful on this front. She is the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and is able to communicate the gravity of what this represents from both a moral and economic standpoint. She tells it in story form, and calls on us to imagine that this was not some impersonal, national statistic, but instead one of the members of our family:
Imagine a very wealthy family blessed with five children. Four of their children have enough to eat and comfortable warm rooms in which to sleep. One of their children does not. She is hungry and lives in a cold room. On some nights she has to sleep on the streets or in a temporary shelter or even be taken away from her neglectful family and placed in foster care with strangers.
Imagine this family giving four of their children nourishing meals three times a day and snacks to fuel boundless child energy, but sending the fifth child from the table and to school hungry with only one or two meals and never the dessert the other children enjoy.
Imagine this wealthy family making sure that four of their children get all of their shots, regular checkups before they get sick, immediate health care when they are sick, while ignoring the fifth child who is plagued by chronic infections and respiratory diseases like asthma.
Imagine this family sending four of their children to good, stimulating preschools and music and swimming lessons, and sending the fifth child to unsafe day care with untrained caregivers responsible for too many children. Or these parents having to leave this child with an occasionally accommodating relative or neighbor, or even alone.
Imagine this wealthy family reading every night to four of their children who have books in their rooms, but leaving the other child unread to, untalked to, unsung to, or propped before a television screen which feeds him violence and sex-charged messages, ads for material things, and intellectual pablum.
Imagine this family sending four of their children to good schools in safe neighborhoods (if there is such a thing anymore) with enough books and computers and laboratories and science equipment and well- prepared teachers, and sending the fifth child to crumbling school buildings, with ceilings peeling and leaks and asbestos and lead paint and old books (and not enough of them), and teachers untrained in the subjects they teach.
Imagine four of the family’s children excited about learning, looking forward to college after they finish high school, and getting a job, and the fifth child falling farther and farther behind grade level, unable to read and wanting to drop out of school, or at risk of getting pregnant or into trouble.
And imagine four of the children engaged in sports and music and arts enrichment after school and summer camps and internships as they reach adolescence, while the fifth child meets his friends on the street after school, or goes home alone because mom and dad work or have escaped parenting responsibilities and have resorted to drugs and alcohol, leaving this child hanging out all alone either at home or with their peers after school and all summer.
None of us would ever settle for that level of injustice in our own family, and nor should we. Yet this is the stark reality of what is currently happening to our American children, and it is as much of an injustice and an outrage as if it were happening in our actual home.
So what should we do about that? How are we to feel? How should we respond? This represents only the beginning of the conversation, but here is a recap on some of my personal and theological views: