Do Young Lives Matter?

Do young lives matter? Especially poor ones?

LeBron James and many other professional athletes are taking a stand against racism and what they consider unjust actions by police across the country. One can argue about the wisdom of these actions and even the basis of the complaints but one can’t argue that a leading cause of dysfunction in our society is crappy public K-12 schools and the damage they do to young, innocent lives. The poorer you are, the worse are the schools you’re forced to attend. 

And far too many of the children forced by our society to attend these factories of failure have black and brown skin. How many of the adults shot by police in recent times can trace the root cause back to a child’s failed education?

If one wants to talk about systemic racism, there is no more obvious example than the schools poor kids have no choice but to attend.

A Narrow Window

It is well-accepted in education circles that at some point in a child’s life, if he isn’t participating at grade-level, the odds thathe never will catch up become overwhelming. Most believe it is somewhere around 3rd to 5th grade. 

That’s around 10 years old. So if a 10-year-old isn’t operating at grade level, his or her life opportunities are going to be damaged severely.

Think of the implication of this fact for every child in the land, especially poor ones. Far too many of these schools don’t act as institutions of learning but rather just as one step along a pipeline that leads to prison or the cemetery.

And this fate is forced upon the most vulnerable population in the country; a population whose need for its children to get a shot at a decent education exceeds all others. If Lebron and others want to take a stand and truly make a difference, they should save a little energy for focusing on saving children; not solely shedding tears on damaged adults. 

Frederick Douglass, who knew a thing or two about racism and disempowerment, noted “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Let us focus on that.

And we have so very little time to fix these schools. Every moment is precious for both the child, the school, and society at large. 

Bureaucratic Intransigence

The public schools are massive organizations that are quite resistant to change. It is simply the nature of large organizations, even if they all wanted to change—and many don’t— to resist it. It is an impossibility for them to self-reorganize. It can’t be done. And I have years of experience as an expert in driving organizational change so I know what I’m talking about.

If we can’t fix these schools in one year, then the 9-year-olds are screwed. Can’t fix them in two? Then the 8-year-olds are screwed.

Can’t fix them in five years? Then all 5-year-olds are out of luck. 

Can’t fix them in 10 years? Then every poor child whose heart beats today, even those still in the womb, are screwed. This cannot be allowed.

Think of that, every single poor child in the entire country faces a bleak future since the odds of these schools significantly improving, even in 10 years, is close to zero.

Again, speaking as an expert in organizational change, there is only one force on the face of the planet that can potentially save these innocent children and that is freedom. Only freedom has the power to transform these schools in the shortest period of time.

Give all of the money used to educate their children to the parents—in some sort of state-regulated environment of course—and watch the world change. On average, in the United States this would put over $15,000 per child per year under parentental control. In many of the inner-cities across the country, that number is often closer to $25,000 per child!

Only this process and the forces it would unleash have the power to save these children.

So take a knee or walk off the court if you like, but if you truly want to save poor lives, demand educational freedom, and demand it now. Or accept the fact that the assembly line of school-to-prison-to-cemetery will continue to provide an almost unlimited supply of damaged people just waiting for their next encounter with the police.

Raise your voice for every poor child in the land or please just go back to your mansions and STFU.

About John Conlin

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change. He is also president and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world primarily through K-12 education.

Photo: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

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