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When Did We Just Give Up?

9 November 2008

Obama 2008Starting today I will abandon my tag line: What is wrong with the media?  Maybe it’s just wishful observation on my part, but it seems to me that since the election of Barack Obama, the media has started covering different kinds of stories.  So, for now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and try to take from those stories ideas for my own daily posts.

This Sunday morning, as I drank my coffee and prepared breakfast, there were three stories that got my attention.  On their faces they seemed unconnected.  One was local, one, while being covered by a local station, was from Arizona, and a third was covered later on CNN.  The first two got me to thinking about something I have noticed for quite some time, now, and it is those thoughts that brought the stories together in my mind.

The first was a teaser story directing viewers to a more in-depth presentation at 10:00 p.m.  You know, the kind of thing that all local stations do to get you to come back to their later broadcasts.  I hate this kind of bait-and-switch journalism, but I doubt my disdain for it will bring about a change.  But, I mean, don’t you hate it when your local news station warns of some impending danger to the health or safety of you or your children and then directs you to tune in later in the day to find out about it?  After all, these are the same people who don’t think twice before interrupting their entertainment programming with “breaking news” in order to show you a fire in some other city.   But I digress.  Sorry, it’s part of advancing age!

Johnny Williams, on stretcher, is taken from an ambulance to a homeless shelter in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 2006. Police said Williams was one of five patients from the L.A. Metropolitan Medical Center who were photographed and videotaped by police being dropped off on skid row against their will.

Johnny Williams, on stretcher, is taken from an ambulance to a homeless shelter in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 2006. Police said Williams was one of five patients from the L.A. Metropolitan Medical Center who were photographed and videotaped by police being dropped off on skid row against their will.

Anyway, this teaser spot promised a story about an 84-year-old man who couldn’t even walk that was dropped off by a local hospital at a homeless shelter because they wanted to get rid of him.  The reporter said that this was a growing problem here in the nation’s fourth largest city – one that prides itself on being the nation’s foremost medical center.  It seems that local homeless shelters are seeing an increasing number of elderly patients being dumped on their doorsteps by hospitals in our area.  This is not only sad at the basest level, but it is also shocking in a nation that claims to be the richest in the world.

child-in-handcuffsThe other story was out of Arizona.  It appears that an eight-year-old boy shot and killed his father and another man.  The local district attorney reports that the child confessed his crime and admitted to having planned it, thus making it pre-meditated murder.  The local DA also announced that he planned to try the eight year old as an adult.  This is the youngest child I remember being charged with a crime as an adult.  Maybe there are others, but I don’t remember any.  I seem to have a memory of a ten year old in a previous case.  As child-sillyone who sat in courtrooms for 14 years of my life, I cannot help but be alarmed by this recent trend to hold children to the same standard of behavior as adults.  We don’t seem to think they are old enough to make a simple decision like who to vote for, or drink an alcoholic beverage, yet we charge them with a responsibility to be adult in other behaviors that we find to be unacceptable.  And do not get me wrong, there is nothing in my mind that makes murder under any circumstances acceptable.

Caring for each other

Caring for each other

That being said, the two stories, when taken together wove a different tapestry.  Tapestry may be too beautiful a word for it, but it comes to mind.  What both of these sad stories reflect is the fact that we, as a society, have thrown up our hands and retreated from any responsibility towards the young and old among us.  There was a time when an 84-year-old man who couldn’t take care of himself would be taken in by members of his family.  Sadly, those days are gone.  And this is not an indictment of families; it is a realistic look at where our society has taken itself.  The truth is that many 84 year olds don’t have a family to take them in, and if they do have family, that family may not be equipped to do so.  In today’s world of single-earner households and other households that require two wage earners to survive, there is no family member available to give round-the-clock care to an aging relative who has no way to provide for themselves.  And with economic hard times predicted ahead, that problem will probably only become worse.

the-runaway-norman-rockwellJust as sad is the way we have come to treat our children.  There was a time within my memory when a child who committed a crime – admittedly not murder – was marched by merchants or law enforcement officers to their parents’ door, and the parents would handle the task of appropriate punishment and “education” to help the misbehaving child see the error of their ways.  In case these measures proved to bear no fruits of success, we had, and still have, a juvenile court system and correctional system to address the issues of those children who resist the change necessary to become productive members of society.  Today, however, with so many single-parent households and two-working-parent households, there is often no one at home during the daytime hours when children are out of school to watch over them, and our juvenile justice system seems overwhelmed by the burden placed upon it.

money-fist-stingyThe answer put forward by conservative thinkers has been to stop wasting taxpayer money on the young and old alike.  They have declared all programs designed to stop these problems before they start too expensive and ineffective.  In their rush to scale down the size of government, they have opted to leave old men on the sidewalks of our large cities and incarcerate children who, for whatever reason, have strayed off the straight and narrow for terms of up to life in prison.  In other words, they have given up on these children, declaring them to be unworthy of the attention that may turn them around.  As a former court reporter who watched children in numerous juvenile cases get another chance to clean up their acts, and as a former teacher who worked with teenagers on a daily basis, I am sad to see this retreat and surrender.  Sarah Palin often preached about a flag of surrender being waved in Iraq.  I note that she seems to have never waved the flag of surrender where her own children are concerned.  I contend that all children are my children and no flag of surrender should ever be waved.  The same goes for our elderly.  No matter what we may want to believe, we were once part of the one group and are headed to the other.

FRANCE-POVERTY-HOMELESSThat brings me to the last story I saw this morning.  It is a story of hope steeped in a heartbreaking reality.  It is the story of 11-year-old Brenden Foster.  Brenden suffers from leukemia and is not expected to see his 12th birthday.  But even in his suffering he has a last thing to teach us all.  One day as his mother took him by a public park, Brenden observed a tent city of homeless people.  He asked his mother about them, and she explained their plight.  Of course, one wouldn’t expect that an 11 year old could do much about such a situation, but Brenden put what he had to good use.  He managed to get the attention of local citizens and make a last wish for himself.  His last wish?  That someone would help feed the homeless people in that park by giving them sandwiches.  And not all peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, in case some of them were allergic.

homeless-sandwich-makersAn outpouring came from the community.  Not a simple donation of money to buy food came forth, but a brigade of citizens showed up with sandwich makings and began feeding the residents of the tent city.  Through the eyes of a child who thought of others instead of himself, those people were treated to the great experience of actually DOING something to help those less fortunate than themselves.

obama-winsI, too, have a wish.  I wish that everybody who sees my posting today will pass it along to their friends and families, and perhaps, just perhaps, we can stop throwing our hands up in the face of the problems that confront us and start DOING something about them.  We have taken a good first step by electing a man to lead us who seems to understand these things.  Let us do what we can to help President-elect Obama fulfill his vision of a nation of helpers.

KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 November 2008 8:34 pm

    Jack,

    What a great story to come home to. I need to get my legs back under me again and get passed my jet lag before I delve into any in depth comment about this great piece of writing. It is good to be home. I have about 20 hours of election news and stuff DVR’d up in my bedroom. I may be there for a week but I will come up for air to stop by.

    I have to catch up on your other posts before hitting the hay tonight.

  2. Left-Eyed Jack permalink*
    10 November 2008 12:20 pm

    To: Willpen,

    Glad you’re back. Rest up and catch up, and I’ll see you on the other side.

  3. 10 November 2008 3:43 pm

    And another story to add to your tapestry, this time from Chris Hedges, and unfortunately it adds to the frustration. I saw it on the Common Dreams website today (Monday). While Hedges doesn’t provide sources for his data, he claims that some 42 million Americans are illiterate with another 50 million nearly so (reading at about the 4th or 5th grade level). If his statistics are true, it means over 1 in 4 Americans are not sufficiently literate to be able to participate effectively in the economic or political life of the nation.

    I’d been thinking about the renewed appreciation of “smart and well-educated” in our president-elect, but it seems I was being way too optimistic. Even if Hedges’ statistics are off by a factor of 2, it’s clear that we have a huge problem that no amount of standardized testing and vouchers alone can solve. Simply throwing money at the problem isn’t the answer, but clearly money will be needed, lots of money. And we can no longer ignore the relationship between illiteracy and crime or think that we’ve solved the problem if our kids could only learn to read. This is an area where each of us who can read can be part of the solution. I’ve listed a number of ways we can do that on my own blog, and I’m hereby issuing a challenge to everyone who has been inspired to remain involved.

  4. Left-Eyed Jack permalink*
    11 November 2008 3:19 pm

    To: More Light Than Heat,

    This information doesn’t exactly come as a surprise to me. Living here in Texas where the public schools have been decimated by tax-stingy Republicans, I have seen this coming for quite some time. As a teacher in a community college it was apparent to me that the students we were getting were less and less prepared for the rigors of the court reporting curriculum. Most of them couldn’t determine what a sentence is and parts of speech were a complete mystery to them. As a result a program that used to only have a 10% chance of successful completion fell more to the range of a one percent completion. It was frustrating.

    We, as a faculty, decided that it might be in our interest to go out into the local high schools and try to introduce beginner classes in order to find better prospects for our program. We only had one local school district that took us up on the offer. Unfortunately, due to state rules about college-level courses being taught in public high schools we were only able to enroll honor students. As the teacher in the program, it was clear to me that the students I encountered, being the cream of the cream, belonged in law school and medical school and higher doctoral level occupations and to recruit them into court reporting would have been a disservice to them.

    But the most alarming thing I found teaching in a public school in Texas was the way the school was beholden to the mandatory state achievement test for its funding. It resulted in every student in the school being taken out of their regular classes several times each year for about two weeks to be taught the test. It was totally unproductive and really did nothing to further the educational level of our students. In fact, it was a waste of their time, when time was crucial to their educational growth. I then understood why we didn’t get students in our program that were at a level they needed to be. All most students in Texas were learning was the successful techniques of taking a multiple-choice standardized test.

    I guess you really got me started there, but I couldn’t let the opportunity slip away. Thanks for the comment.

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