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All Work and No Play

Mar 24, 2009
No Child Left Behind has had one starkly disturbing effect. Recess has completely disappeared from many American elementary schools, in towns and cities that aren’t even bothering to include playgrounds when planning new structures.1,2 It is fast becoming all academics, all the time, to the manifest detriment of our children’s development.

Now, the Alliance for Childhood has published a study that shows this trend infecting kindergarten and even preschool ages. Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School reveals that “what we do in education has little or nothing to do with what we know is good pedagogy for children” [from the Foreword, by David Elkind].

Recess or child-initiated play in Kindergarten and preschool has been reduced to thirty minutes or less out of the school day, while the lion’s share of the day is devoted to literacy and numeracy instruction and to the preparation and taking of standardized tests, tests which are extremely unreliable indicators of anything regarding a child’s future academic prospects.

Children are natural, engaged learners, but we all know what schools can do to those instincts. They are doing it at younger and younger ages all the time, and with dire results. Preschool expulsion rates are three times higher than national rates for K-12, and boys are being expelled four to five times more often than girls. The loss of child-initiated play in our preschool and Kindergarten years stifles creativity and imagination, and excessive instruction is contributing to early frustration and failure.

This report needs to be read by all parents of young children, and then the battle must be joined against the political ideologues whose misplaced emphasis on early childhood instruction contradicts everything we know about how children learn.
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1 Banning School Recess, by Ann Svensen, from FamilyEducation.com, undated, accessed, as other notes in this item, Mar 21, 2009
2 no-recess policies being implemented in u.s. school districts, from adoption.com, undated
tags: Youth

It’s a Crying Shame

Feb 19, 2009
Four children die in the U.S. every day as a result of child abuse, and three of them are under the age of four. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds during which three other occurrences go unreported. Of the reported rapes of children under 12, 90 percent of them knew the perpetrators. Child abuse happens across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.1

A study by Ronald J. Prinz, et al., of the University of South Carolina, the University of Brisbane, and Georgia State University, promises that help is on the way. Their report, Population-Based Prevention of Child Maltreatment: The U.S. Triple P System Population Trial determined, not surprisingly, that when counties offer family service providers instruction in carefully crafted parenting procedures, those counties do significantly better in reducing child abuse than those counties where a business-as-usual approach is maintained.

Hard times spell even harder times for the powerless, and children are an all-too-ready target for a parent or guardian’s anger, frustration, and despair. With the economic meltdown, millions suddenly unemployed, and a frozen credit market, hard times are about to hit our children even harder. County workers, take note. This study can help protect our most precious asset.
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1 National Child Abuse Statistics, from ChildHelp, Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse, accessed February 15, 2009
tags: Youth

As California Goes...

Jan 24, 2009
They’re not the worst—they’re just the first!

You can view the possible future of our nation by examining the present in California, the traditional trendsetter for the rest of us. Children NOW, “a national organization for people who care about children and want to ensure that they are the top public policy priority,” did just that recently. Their January 6, 2009, press release, “Investing in Children Key to Righting California Economy,” reveals their findings, and they are not pretty:

  • A million California children are without health insurance. Every time one of them visits a hospital for a preventable ailment, it costs California $7,000, whereas it would cost only 17 percent of that ($1,200) to provide health coverage for each uninsured child.
  • One in five (109,011) high school students in California dropped out in 2007.
  • Sixteen percent of California adolescents are obese, costing Californians $7.7 billion annually.
  • Fewer than half (48 percent) of California’s 3- and 4-year-olds attend any sort of preschool.
  • Meanwhile, the state faces a growing shortage of college-educated workers, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. This means that the income gap between in-demand college grads and the excessive numbers of workers with a high school education or less will continue to grow. In 1980, that difference was 39 percent; in 2006, it was 86 percent.
Coming Soon to a State Near You! A population explosion of uninsured, uneducated, unfit, unemployable, and very unhappy young people. Be Prepared!
tags: Youth

Unsafe at Any Age

Jan 03, 2009
See, here’s the problem in a nutshell, and since this nutshell is killing our children, perhaps we’ll be inclined to listen.

We import 90 percent of our toys now, and 90 percent of those imports come from China.1 Yet, while toy imports were increasing 562 percent between 1980 and 2008, the U.S. agency responsible for assuring their safety, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was seeing its budget cut by a fifth and its staff reduced by nearly 60 percent. The CPSC has exactly zero full-time staff working at any of the 326 U.S. ports, and they concentrate their part-time efforts on only two of them, Los Angeles and New York, leaving the other 324 virtually unchecked.

Meanwhile, over a dozen trade agreements have promoted and protected the toy industry’s offshore production and lax safety standards.

Unsafe products are pouring into our country, produced in overseas sweatshops that enforce no labor or environmental protections. Public Citizen’s 2007 report (.pdf, 30 pp., 543Kb) details the major causes of toy recalls over a ten-year period, shows how corporations have created global supply chains to avoid product liability laws, and relates how U.S. CEO pay has skyrocketed over the same period.

Do we see a pattern here? Are we beginning to understand what is behind “Always Low Prices”? Do we see now why all those unruly young people show up at globalization conferences?

The 2008 report discovers a silver lining in the 71 newly elected senators and representatives who favor sane trade policies. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, google toys china and look out you don’t get buried in lead Mattel recall.
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1 Closing Santa’s Sweatshop (.pdf, 27 pp., 280Kb), from Public Citizen, December 2008, pg. 3 (accessed December 30, 2008)
tags: Youth

Poverty Redux—America’s Children

Dec 29, 2008
Yesterday, we addressed poverty in America in general terms. When we focus on children, the situation is considerably more bleak.

The Children’s Defense Fund, in its State of America’s Children 2008 Report (.pdf, 80 pp., 807Kb), provides a damning indictment of our treatment of our children. Its Highlights (.pdf, 2 pp., 139Kb) provide numbers which ought to enrage and awaken every American to action:

  • America lags behind almost all other industrialized countries on key child indicators.
  • We are the worst among industrialized nations in relative child poverty, the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, child gun violence, and the number of imprisoned persons.
  • An American child is born into poverty every 33 second, and 5.8 million live in extreme poverty.
  • 8.9 million children are uninsured and every 18 minutes a child dies before its first birthday.
  • The average cost of child care in two-thirds of the states is greater than the annual tuition at a four-year public college.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start enroll only a fraction of eligible children (50 to 66 percent and three percent respectively).
  • Though white and black teens are about equally likely to use drugs, black juveniles are arrested twice as frequently for these offenses and are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites.
We may have more billionaires than anyone else, but we are 25th in infant mortality and in 15-year-olds’ math scores. Sixty percent of our high school graduates do not read at grade level, and only the U.S. and Somalia—Somalia!—have failed to sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Give me the child for seven years,” the Jesuits have been quoted as saying, “and I will give you the man.” Give up a child to hunger, poverty, ignorance, and violence during its formative years, and at 18 what sort of emancipated adult can we expect to unleash upon the public?
tags: Youth

Table of Contents

No Child Left Hungry

Dec 06, 2008
One of the themes emerging from All Together Now is the pragmatic basis of the Golden Rule. It is to our advantage that we treat others as we would be treated. To treat them less well, to refrain from relieving them of their poverty, ignorance, or disease when it is within our power to do so, works to our immediate, ongoing, and serious disadvantage.

The Progressive Policy Institute knows whereof we speak. In one of their latest “Memos to the President,” Ending Child Hunger in America (.pdf), by Joel Berg and Tom Freedman, their recommendations are firmly grounded in the logic of our first paragraph. The bad news:

  • One in six children in America live below the poverty line.
  • Food prices increased four percent in 2007, over one and one-half times the annual average in the previous 15 years.
  • Eighty-four percent of food banks were unable to meet demand in 2007, with increases in clientele as high as 20 percent.
  • Food insecurity costs us $90 billion a year in lost productivity, health care costs, and substandard educational performance.
Their five recommendations to end child hunger in America:
Provide all children with a free school breakfast
Only one in five children eligible for free school breakfasts actually receive them, for a variety of reasons. Feed all the children instead. The benefits are many and the results (already tried in some districts) are astounding.
Improve program efficiency and accountability
There is a plethora of food-related federal programs that could be combined, resulting in a more efficient and inexpensive system that would reach more eligible families.
Support working families
“One of the best ways government can help working families is to make sure that work pays a decent wage.” Hear, hear!!
Reward best practices in the states
Reward these testing grounds with cash bonuses for the most effective programs to reduce child hunger, prompting a competition across all 50 of them.
Provide real ammo to the armies of compassion
They are out there, in the trenches, and in touch with where the need is highest. Partner with these secular and religious-based groups; they will be the soldiers who will win your war against childhood hunger.
An admirable goal: No hungry child in America ever again following an Obama administration.

Admirable and eminently achievable.
tags: Youth

Stealing, Lying, and Cheating

Dec 05, 2008
Apparently, these ethical qualities are as American as apple pie, hence our illustration today. The Josephson Institute has released its latest biennial report from its Center for Youth Ethics, entitled The Ethics of American Youth. It’s not a pretty picture.

Over a third of high school boys (35 percent) and a quarter (26 percent) of girls admitted having stolen something from a store in the past year, each number up three percentage points from two years ago. Almost all high school children (83 percent) have lied to a parent in the past year about something significant. And cheating in school is up four percentage points (to 64 percent) from 2006. And the numbers may even be worse, since fully a quarter of the 30,000 respondents confessed to lying on one or two of the questions during the survey!

Not to worry, however, since our pedagogical emphasis on nurturing self-esteem has been one of the educational success stories of the past generation. Despite their cheating hearts, fully 93 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent said that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Before we lapse into Paul Lynde1 mode,2 however, let’s take a few deep breaths and look for some perspective.

Speaking only for ourself, we lied like a rug when we were in high school. We lied about everything to everyone. When we turned 21, we swore off lying, not because it was wrong, but because we refused to continue to be so diminished in our own eyes by our constant lies. We have pretty much kept to that determination throughout a longish adulthood.

We stole from stores a time or two, probably before we were actually in high school, and even committed a few misdemeanor-level vandalisms during the difficult transition from innocence to experience. But that was then and this is now and it is inconceivable to imagine we would steal again from any motivation but the direst want. The fact that we don’t recall cheating in school may probably be laid to the fact that we never sat close enough to the ones who were smarter than we were in order to crib off their papers. And cheating in school always struck us as rather like cheating at solitaire. Finally, what’s the point?

We generally consider that seven-year-old children have reached the Age of Reason,3 before which a child has no real concept of the difference between objective right and wrong. However, to understand that right and wrong exist is not the same thing as to have the capacity to subordinate one’s own interests to ethical considerations. That takes much longer, which is why society doesn’t emancipate its children until they are considerably older.

We take some reassurance in the fact that there is such a significant disconnect between teen behavior and their own self-conception. We do learn right from wrong at seven, and we do struggle for years to bring right and wrong into alignment with our own needs and inclinations—many of us ultimately failing, of course. However, believing that we are essentially such admirable boys and girls cannot, in the end, but help to make us so.
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1 Paul Lynde, from Wikipedia, accessed December 2, 2008, as are other footnoted sources today.
2 “What’s the Matter with Kids Today?,” from Bye Bye, Birdie
3 The Age of Reason, by Adele M. Brodkin, from Scholastic, July 1, 2006
tags: Youth

What's Logic Got to Do With It?

Nov 22, 2008
Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy that says, “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.”1 The usually level-headed Rand Corporation has fallen into this common error in its latest study on teenage pregnancy, which, in their news release, claims it is the “First to Link Viewing of Sexual Content on Television to Subsequent Teen Pregnancy.” This is not to say that watching a lot of sex on television does not lead to a tendency to become pregnant. However, it is just as logical to conclude that a tendency to become pregnant leads to watching a lot of sex on television.

We don’t personally know the current state of sexuality on television, being blissfully unencumbered by that annoyance; however, we are pretty sure it can’t hold a candle to the current state of sexuality on the Internet. There, if you can Google it, you can find it, in full-screen video. And we are sure it is having a far more profound effect on teen sexual activity than watching Tony Soprano climb on top of some pneumatic extra on HBO.

Among more certifiable truths regarding teen sexuality are these: Teen births declined precipitously from 60 births per 1,000 teens age 15 to 19 in 1991 to 40 in 2005. There was a slight increase in 2006.2 The abortion rate has also enjoyed significant declines since 1990, as we noted in No Sex, Please, We’re Abstaining. We expect when the new administration scuttles the ridiculous “abstinence only” sex education requirements associated with federal support of various family planning programs here and abroad that the abortion rate will be reduced even more dramatically.

The fact of the matter may just be that all this sex we are awash in is doing us more good than harm! A recent study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence3 finds that “teens who have sex at an early age may be less inclined to exhibit delinquent behavior in early adulthood than their peers who waited until they were older to have sex.”4 Sex may even help these teens in developing better social relationships in early adulthood.

I whispered, “I am too young,”
And then, “I am old enough”;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
“Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.”
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.5

____________________
1 Post hoc ergo proper hoc, from Wikipedia (Accessed November 16, 2008)
2 Teenage Birth Rate Rises for First Time Since ’91, by Gardiner Harris, from the New York Times, December 6, 2007 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
3 Rethinking Timing of First Sex and Delinquency, by K. Paige Harden, et al., from Journal of Youth and Adolescence, volume 37, number 4, April 2008, pp. 373-385 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
4 Early Teen Sex May Not Be A Path To Delinquency, Study Shows, from ScienceDaily, November 14, 2007 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
5 Brown Penny, by William Butler Yeats (Accessed November 16, 2008)
tags: Youth

Pro and Con

Oct 18, 2008
We’re pro-choice and anti-abortion. Abortion is a horrible experience for any woman to undergo; horrible for her mate, who is forced to be a hopelessly frustrated non-participant on the sidelines; horrible for families and friends. That it often is performed in consequence of a rape or an incestuous attack only makes it more horrible.

Happily, the numbers of abortions have been declining in America for the past generation, from a high of 1,429,247 in 1990 (that is 344 abortions for every 1,000 live births) to 839,226 in 2004 (or 238 for every 1,000 live births).1 That is still a hefty number—almost one abortion for every four live births. Too much suffering all around.

Most abortions in 2004 (33 percent) were performed on women in the 20- to 24-year age group. Sadly, 17 percent were performed on younger women and girls, most of whom had presumably not reached the age of independence. Over 4,300 abortions were performed on girls younger than 15. To speak of the decline of the family is almost to speak a cliche these days. And yet the numbers don’t lie. About half of all first marriages end in divorce, and the number goes up precipitously for second and third marriages.2 The percentage of single-parent households with children increased from 19.5 percent in 1980 to 28.3 percent in 2005. Drug law violations among delinquents have almost tripled between 1990 and 2004 and offenses against the public have more than doubled.3 Reported cases of child abuse (the tip of the iceberg if there ever was one) went up 30 percent between 1990 and 2005.4

So it was with some degree of anticipatory joy that the following press release caught our eye: The Effect of Parental Involvement Laws on the Incidence of Abortion Among Minors. “What!,” we exclaimed, ”There are laws now requiring parents to get involved with their children? What a great idea!”

Alas, no. The study, written by Michael J. New and published by the Family Research Council is merely another screed against abortion, this one posing as a scientific study. The “involvement“ is simply the levels of parental notification or consent required by various states when a child discovers herself to be pregnant, and the study purports to show how the more stringent the level of involvement is (on a scale from mere notification to two-parent consent), the lower the rate of abortion. Well, perhaps, but are we the only ones who find the following extract, with its multiple assaults upon a frightened, frantic fifteen- or sixteen-year old reduced to sciencespeak, overwhelmingly sad?

The regression results indicate that a number of different types of laws result in reductions in the minor abortion rate. Informed consent laws which provide women seeking abortion with information about public and private sources of support, health risks involved with an abortion, and fetal development reduce the minor abortion rate by 3.8 percent. This finding is statistically significant. The regression model finds that public funding restrictions reduce the minor abortion rate by 7.8 percent. This finding is also statistically significant. Finally, partial birth abortion bans have little effect on the minor abortion rate, a finding that is consistent with much of the academic and policy literature that has analyzed the effects of partial birth abortion laws.

Of more interest, however, are the effects of the parental involvement laws. The regression results indicate that the passage of a parental involvement law reduces the minor abortion rate by 13.6 percent....
Harangue them, impoverish them, outlaw them if they wait too long, and if that doesn’t do the trick, rat them out to Mom and Dad. But for goodness sakes, don’t teach them how to take care of themselves in the first place, don’t let them hear about, let alone acquire, condoms or birth control information, despite the fact that we had sex and 75 percent of them are going to have sex before they’re 21, and we know it.5

That one in five pregnancies is considered so unacceptable to the prospective mother that they end in the horror of abortion, that the majority of Americans—men, women, Democrats, Republicans—support abortion rights,6 that no country or culture or legal system has ever granted the fetus the status of a human being, that we live in a world of disappearing resources and exploding populations: None of this matters to the small minority of hysteriarchs infected with the idee fixe that a zygote is imbued with a soul, and are prepared to commit murder and mayhem to enforce their delusions on a healthier, smarter, and vastly more compassionate public.

Obama has said, “we can certainly agree that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.” We are afraid the fanatics cannot agree to that; however, that is the goal: No unwanted pregnancies. We are on our way, down over 600,000 a year since 1990.

It can be done.
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1 Reproductive Health: Data and Statistics (Abortion) from the Centers for Disease Control (Accesssed October 15, 2008)
2 Single-Parent Households: 1980 to 2005, from the U.S. Census Bureau (Accessed October 15, 2008)
3 Delinquency Cases Disposed by Juvenile Courts by Reason for Referral: 1990 to 2004, op. cit. (Accessed October 15, 2008)
4 Child Abuse and Neglect Cases Substantiated and Indicated— Victim Characteristics: 1990 to 2005, op. cit. (Accessed October 15, 2008)
5 No Sex, Please, We’re Abstaining, from All Together Now, October 5, 2008
6 Abortion in the United States: Public Opinion, from Wikipedia (Accessed October 15, 2008)
tags: Youth

No Sex, Please, We're Abstaining

Oct 05, 2008
We wonder whether these Sarah Palin types who support abstinence-only sex education1 are serious, or are only being spoilsports. We could not find statistics on how many Americans favor abstinence-only sex education (which consists, essentially, of delivering three words, “Just say no!” in a frantic, hushed tone). We did find that over the past 20 years polls have consistently shown that 35 percent of adults say premarital sex is always or almost always wrong,2 so we can presume they are the ones whose voices are drowning out the rest of us these days.

More enlightening—and infinitely more entertaining—were the reliable statistics we found confirming that “almost all Americans have sex before marrying.”3 We are talking, like, 97 percent here. Essentially everyone.

When numbers like that come up against an “official” federal government policy of abstinence-only sex education,4 it is no wonder teens in the U.S. suffer from the highest birth rate and one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the industrialized world.5

So here is a message to the roughly one-third of Americans who have had sex before marriage and apparently had such a horrible time of it they want to spare their children the experience:

Fuhgeddaboudit.

Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. So says an article by Douglas B. Kirby, entitled The Impact of Abstinence and Comprehensive STD/HIV Education Programs on Adolescent Sexual Behavior, from the September 2008 issue of Sexual Research and Sexual Policy. The article concludes, “abstinence programs have little evidence to warrant their widespread replication....”

So let’s cut out the abstinence nonsense. If 97 percent of us are gonna do it—and 75 percent of us are gonna do it before we’re 216—let’s do it right—with understanding, with care, with as few unwanted pregnancies as possible, and with no STDs.

And the only way we’ll learn to do it that way is if we’re taught to do it that way.

Update: An article in the January 2009 journal Pediatrics reports that “The sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage... Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially virginity pledgers.”
____________________
1 Palin on Abortion: I’d Oppose Even If My Own Daughter Was Raped, by Sam Stein, from the Huffington Post, September 1, 2008 (Accessed September 30, 2008)
2 Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003 (.pdf), by Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, from Public Health Reports, volume 122, Jan-Feb 2007, pg. 74 (Accessed September 30, 2008)
3 Op. cit., pg. 73
4 Abstinence-only Education, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, undated (Accessed September 30, 2008)
5 Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact, by Debra Hauser, from Advocates for Youth, undated (Accessed September 30, 2008)
6 Finer, op. cit., pg. 73
tags: Youth

Teen Angst

Aug 29, 2008
“My suffering used to be so beautiful. Now it’s just a pain in the ass.” So goes a line from a show we were once in that introduced freshmen to college life.

Kids suffer. We tell them, “Enjoy yourself! It’s the best years of your life.” But they suffer, and we know it. Because we did.

They suffer, to an extent, because suffering is beautiful, in a way, when it is something you can indulge in, and not something which is necessarily visited upon you by outside circumstances. Today, kids are suffering to a great extent because those outside circumstances are impinging upon those “best years” when they ought not to be burdened by the real world.

The Horatio Alger Foundation has just released a report entitled, “The State of Our Nation’s Youth, 2008-2009.” They have been polling teenagers since 1996 on their opinions regarding the nation, their schools, their families, and their own lives, present and to come. The most telling number to report this year is that only 53 percent feel hopeful about their country’s future, down from 75 percent in 2003, the year Bush 2 took us to war in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, 75 percent believe the election will make a large difference for the country although, lacking the franchise, only 12 percent of them pay much attention to the campaigns. The economy and Iraq are the outside worries that are bringing the most pressure to bear on our teens, and the pressure to make good grades and get into the school of their choice is the one that haunts their homework-heavy nights.

In polls like this, the grass is often browner on the other side of the fence. Most of our kids—96 percent—say they are going on to some form of higher education after high school, 93 percent think they will reach their career goals, and 88% are confident about their own futures. Such healthy self-regard may be cause for some relief in the face of their otherwise dim view of the present day.

However, in the face of our persistent militarism; our thralldom to corporate interests that are increasing the gap enormously between the rich and the rest of us; and our apparent inability to work together to confront the educational, environmental, and political challenges that must be overcome if we are to endure, let alone prevail, as a species, I can only echo Hardy’s “Darkling Thrush”:

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

tags: Youth

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