“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
Each of us is familiar with Charles Dickens’s, A Christmas Carol, the story of rich skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge and his rude awakening to the virtues of kindness and charity. Though modern readers generally consider the tome to be a charming tale, quaint and cheery but not applicable to our own time, the sad truth is that we live in a world populated by thousands of Scrooges and millions of Tiny Tim’s. Income inequality in modern day America may not be quite as horrific as it was during Dickens’s time, but it is very real:
- Nearly 1 in 2 Americans are at or near poverty according to the Associated Press; even if you reevaluate these numbers in a more positive light, as one west coast NBC affiliate did, that number remains at nearly 1 in 3
- US income inequality is worse by far than income inequality in Europe, Canada, Australia, and South Korea; even Russia does better than we do, although we remain slightly better off than China
- The six heirs to Sam Walton’s Walmart empire have a net worth that is roughly equal to that of the bottom 30% of all Americans combined
- From 2007 to 2009, Wall Street profits surged 720% while Americans’ home equity fell by 35%
- The richest 10% controls 2/3 of Americans’ net worth
As the top earners grow wealthier, the middle class continues to shrink with ever greater numbers of Americans slipping below the poverty line. And the worst hit group, sadly, is children:
- 56.7% of children are at or near poverty
- Child homelessness in the U.S. is up 33% since 2007
- 1.6 million children – 1 in 45 – are homeless; most are less than 7 years old
- 1 out of every 4 American children is on food stamps
With an entire generation of children growing up without economic stability, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come might have some terrifying visions in store for us. It is a well accepted fact that the key to overcoming poverty is education; statistics clearly show that the more education a person attains, the more likely he is to become employed and the higher his wages are likely to be. Yet homeless children face many hurdles as they attempt to earn an education. According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, homeless children often cannot even meet the basic enrollment requirements for public schools (such as proof of residency), and those who do manage to be permanently enrolled in school face other difficulties: school supplies their families can’t afford, a lack of nutritious food, poor hygiene, fatigue, and health problems.
Education is the silver bullet in the fight against poverty, a fact that Arielle Metzger of central Florida is all too aware of. Arielle, along with her brother and father, lived in a truck for several months after their home was lost to foreclosure. Each afternoon, the family would visit the public library in order to make use of free lighting and computer access. “[Education] is everything to us,” Arielle says. “I plan to be a child defense lawyer. If I focus on my studies, I have that opportunity.” The Metzgers, along with the other families featured in the recent 60 Minutes piece, are no longer homeless. In the weeks after the piece aired, viewers pledged nearly a million dollars to help the homeless families of central Florida.
We can only hope that your children share Arielle Metzger’s attitude towards education. Regardless of a child’s socioeconomic status, education is the key to a successful future. Although your child almost certainly has an easier life than the Metzger children, he must still value education and work hard to reach lofty educational goals. Remind your child of how lucky he is to have access to a stable education, to be able to focus on his studies rather than worrying about where he will sleep that night. After all, that onerous algebra homework that he complains about seems pretty trivial compared to the troubles faced by so many less fortunate children.
At this festive season of the year, it is more than usually desirable that we should offer our time and energies to helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Many teens, moved by the spirit of the season, choose this time of year to complete various community service projects or to engage in volunteer work with the hope of improving their college applications. While we find such actions laudable, we encourage our students to go beyond the basic humanitarian requirements – after all, nearly every Ivy League applicant will have spent an afternoon or two serving food at a soup kitchen, but only a select few actually demonstrate sincere interest and passion for helping others. And beyond the obvious benefits in the college admissions race, engaging in community service for the sake of helping others encourages personal growth and development, helping our students to grow into mature and caring adults.
In order to set themselves apart (while also encouraging their personal growth), high school students should make community service a habit. It is not enough to spend an afternoon or two at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. In order to demonstrate true passion for helping others, high school students should select one or two volunteer positions to maintain throughout their high school experience. Volunteering at a soup kitchen one weekend a month, tutoring underprivileged students after school once a week, or finding a volunteer position at a homeless shelter are all excellent options for older students.
In order to avoid creating a new generation of Scrooges, we should encourage generosity from a young age. Humanitarianism should not be reserved only for students with an eye on their upcoming college applications – even elementary and middle school students can be do-gooders! Younger students might collect toy donations for a toy drive or canned food donations for a local food pantry; by engaging in such services at a young age, students can develop a stronger sense of community and generosity which will help to encourage a giving spirit.
Let us all remember the true meaning of this season – peace on earth and goodwill to all. We at C2 Education wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.