HETRICK: Hey kids! Come and get your pound of flesh

January 9, 2010

While channel-surfing recently, I watched a CNN story about a 9-year-old boy caught up in Hawaii’s “furlough Friday” approach to state-government and public-school budget-cutting.

The little boy, Hunter Gentry, is a creative kid with bilateral hearing loss. On Fridays, he used to get focused attention from his teacher so he could keep pace with his classmates. Not anymore.

You see, Hawaii—like many states—is facing a big revenue shortfall, $1.2 billion by one recent account. And public schools are a major line item.

So, after a prolonged feud between labor unions and state government over possible solutions, and after lots of hue and cry from various stakeholders, Hawaii chose to close its public schools on 17 Fridays during the current school year.

The cut amounts to nearly 10 percent of scheduled classroom days. Now, despite already-low test scores, Hawaii has the shortest school year in the nation.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who, like his boss, the president, believes American kids need more time in school, not less, told CNN: “There has to be a better way.”

Hawaii’s not alone in taking out its problems on kids like Hunter. Here in Indiana, a big biennial revenue shortfall has triggered a $150 million cut in higher-education spending and a $300 million cut in K-12 public-education spending.

That’s on top of cuts that already have been made in many schools to arts education and other subjects outside the core curriculum. And despite overwhelming evidence that early-childhood education pays enormous dividends, we’ve never adequately funded kindergarten or preschool education in this state.

So here we stand, knowing how important it is to educate future generations of Americans for a global marketplace populated by nations that value teaching and learning far more than we do. Yet time and again, we fail to find the funds and make the systemic changes so vital to teaching our children well.

And education is just the beginning of our failure to walk the talk.

We say we want to leave our children and grandchildren a better planet than the one we inherited. Yet we fight, delay and dilute local, regional and global initiatives to protect the environment in which we and they must live.

We say we want our children and grandchildren to have means and opportunities we never enjoyed—and to work and save for the things they want and need. Yet we’re digging them a debt-ridden hole so deep they’ll likely never escape.

We say we want our children and grandchildren to be honest, trustworthy and fair to one another. Yet we fail to reform regulations and systems that sustain and reward greed and corruption.

We say we want our children and grandchildren to be good team players. Yet, increasingly, we show them an angry adult world polarized by party, race, gender, faith, nationality, economics, class and assorted other silos.

We say we want our children and grandchildren to shun fighting and get along. Yet time and again, we send them off to fight and die in our wars.

I’ll avoid the temptation to place blame on all these fronts. There’s plenty to go around. The bigger issue, however, is that while we adults argue, procrastinate, point fingers, serve ourselves first and otherwise wax hypocritical, our kids and grandkids are getting royally ripped off.

The idiocy of this should be self-evident. As my mom’s refrigerator magnet says: “Be nice to your children. They’re the ones choosing your nursing home.”

But we grown-ups don’t seem to care.

So children, gather round. I have a Willy Wonka golden-ticket invitation for you.

In light of the selfishness and stupidity exacted upon you by the so-called Greatest Generation, the baby boomers, the Gen Xers, the Gen Yers and now the Millennials—most of whom have neglected to pay their own way and invest wisely in yours—you’re hereby invited to exact revenge upon the whole lot.

Because we’ve shortened your days and hours in school, you’re under no obligation to sustain our lives through high-cost, taxpayer-subsidized, Medicare-managed end-of-life care.

Because we’ve shortchanged your education and rendered you less competitive in the world, you may shortchange our Social Security to better fund yours.

Because we’ve acted selfishly, failed to get along with people different from us, refused to compromise, endangered the planet, engaged in unnecessary conflict, run up the debt, and neglected the systemic changes that would have created a better world for you and yours, you’re allowed to write us off, make us fend for ourselves so that you may focus on yourselves, your world and your progeny.

But hey, even though we deserve your wrath, and even though we understand that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” be nice, OK? We brought you into this world, even if we did mess it up for you.•


Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


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