“Today is food pantry day!” Whitney* said with a smile as we walked down the school corridor. I frowned and asked the second grader if there was a school food pantry every day? “No, just Friday’s,” she said. I’d just met this little one, but I loved her so much. I had no idea what she was going home to, but clearly the food was important to her. If we assume poverty is an indicator of potential abuse and neglect, it means roughly 16% of our students are in troubling home situations, and currently without the Monday through Friday trips to public school.1
I kept up a smile for Whitney, and spoke encouraging words to her, but inside I was frozen. Free food won’t shelter her from abuse. Free clothes won’t tuck her in at night and pray over her. Free shoes and a free backpack won’t erase negligent care. Nor will free Monday through Friday trips to public school.
In the dead of night, when you’re sick. . . who do you want across the hall? I’m so thankful to have had mom and dad nearby to care for me. I could count on them. In this time of corona virus, I don’t know of any educator who isn’t concerned about their students. We know there are some kids at home in abusive, negligent and even dangerous circumstances.
So, what have we done? Schools teach children to make decisions based on their feelings, schools provide free breakfast, lunch and dinner, weekly school-based food pantries, free school-based health clinics and counseling, free “snack packs” to take home over the weekend, free backpacks, school supplies, haircuts and dental work. And yet – these children are still in bad situations.4
16% of our kids at home for 3-4 weeks or longer because of this corona virus, and we never helped their parents be better parents! We have done nothing to motivate or help parents change their own circumstances. Our focus has been wrong. If a family is struggling, what will make the most impact on children: Loading them up with free food and clothes, or expecting their parents to provide for themselves and their children? How important is it that we help parents be good parents and that we have policies and systems in place that hold parents accountable? How important is it that we restore families’ dignity and self-respect?2
Of course, there are times when families need help, and we should help – we must help. However, we’re giving and giving through kids at school – further exacerbating the parents’ feelings of unworthiness. We’ve taken no time to build up and support parents – to hold them accountable through peer pressure and expectations that they take proper care of their children – that they CAN take proper care of your children. We might have far fewer children in dire straits right now if we’d built up their parents’ dignity, capability and responsibility.3
Going forward, we must do the harder work of coming alongside parents and holding them responsible in order for children to experience stability. Otherwise families will sink into entitlement, lose their sense of self-worth, and eventually expect others to care for their needs – tragically forgetting they have something to offer the world, themselves — their own children.
Families are the nucleus that provide the security of having someone right across the hall who will come running to care for you. Who runs across the hall to care for Whitney? Where will she go for food when she has a family of her own, if her experience is the school food pantry?
A child’s first, best teachers are their parents and when a parent is not doing their job well we ought not usurp the parental role, but help parents be good parents. Children spend 14% of the hours in a year at school, based on 180 days of school, 7 hours a day. Kids spend 86% of hours in a year with their families. By focusing on handouts to families via government schools we’re not focusing on what could bring about real change and solutions.
If we can get to fewer (better yet, no) kids in abusive, negligent situations (which would mean more kids in happy, healthy family situations), wouldn’t that be true success? Wouldn’t that be a better society? Wouldn’t all educators be breathing easier right now?
School handouts have created expectations – except school’s out, and no one was taught how to fish. I hope Whitney is okay. . .
I agree that too many handouts are taking away the motivation for parents to provide for their own children. What types of support and accountability do you think would help? As a homeschooler, I cringe a little at the thought of too much oversight, but I think voluntary parental support would be good. Maybe offer the free lunch IF PARENTS go to parenting classes or require a bit more proof of financial need. I have read that the schools do not verify every student. Another idea is that once these poor kids hit a certain age and can be working, they could be put into school/work programs so they can end the cycle of poverty. The fact is that we cannot fix every problem in the world, but we can help some kids. But turning future generations into dependent wards of the state is not a great solution. I’m hearing that teachers see themselves as social modifiers ,not educators. Would you say that is true?
I’m still pondering what support and accountability might look like – I have yet to read the book Toxic Charity, but plan to, because in it the author offers ideas/solutions. The Watered Gardens charity also has found workable solutions. True, we cannot and will not fix every problem, but to reduce the number of kids in bad situations and to avoid government dependence is worth the effort. Yes, the most “politically” active teachers consider themselves social justice warriors/social modifiers. The purpose of teaching and educating is muddled as special interests/social changers tug at each part of the educational system. School choice by/for parents is of the utmost importance at this time.
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I’d like to read that book. I used to be an enabler and attracted certain types of people . I realized that I was actually feeling superior to those people who I was “helping “ but that those people were never going to actually stop the behavior that was causing their problems. 😬 Not good. It changed my life.
Hmm, yes, I also have felt “superior” at times when helping others. It doesn’t feel very good. A book called Redemptive Compassion helped me realize people need a different type of help. In what ways do you help people now that you had that break through?
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I’ve tried to let God lead me on when and where He wants me help. Mainly I have shared the gospel and Scripture on Facebook, donate to several charities that help the homeless, and sponsor a child. I feel like it can be more helpful for me personally to give money. I have a special needs daughter that cannot be left at home alone, so it has been tough for me to participate more in local organizations. I also homeschool. I do have a strong desire to join the local work, and have been trying to get involved with Meals on Wheels , but my family has to come first. For me, I tend to want to rescue people, so holding myself back from enabling is important. I try to look for organizations that are really changing lives, such as Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. I also give to my church and I love serving in Vacation Bible School. I also spend time chatting and counselling with people through Facebook. I try to not give worldly advice like I used to. People need God’s truth. How about you? It’s tough.
Wow! You’re doing a lot. I’m involved in a prayer group that prays for our educational system/teachers/students. I volunteer with a local organization that seeks to come alongside rather than enable. (a difficult line!) Is it just me, or do others feel it hard to refrain from trying to reach lots of people, versus really investing deeply with a few? I’m trying to develop deeper relationships that build a needy person up and encourage them. They in turn hopefully have the confidence to invest in someone, too.
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It’s definitely more scary to get close to an individual than it is to do a group outreach. You’re doing a great thing just reaching out here on your blog. Stay strong in the Lord. ❤
I just took a look at Watered Gardens. Looks like a great program! I think work and accountability are so important to building self-confidence and good habits. Our welfare system destroys both.