“We need to start paying attention to the unfunded stuff and stop worry about the funded stuff.” – Dr. Christopher Thornberg, economist
So many tragic events call into question whether we are paying attention to things that matter. Consider the meaning of Thornberg’s words (above) as they pertain to the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. I must confess, I have not been able to get the Flint crisis out of my mind. Now, I don’t know the reason for the catastrophe, but I am struggling to comprehend that this type of tragedy can happen in America, in the 21st century. However, one thing is clear: The impact on the citizens of Flint, and especially on its children, will be felt for a generation or more. Who was paying attention? How many people who could have acted, turned away because they were somebody else’s children?
And what’s worse, Michigan has a state budget surplus of $575 million dollars! And yet, in order to save money, they were willing to literally poison an entire community . . . to damage an entire generation of Flint residents.
And let’s be honest: Michigan is not alone. I can’t help but think about the generational impact that decisions being made right here in my home state of Kansas are having on our kids. Thank goodness we are not facing the realization that our children have been drinking poisonous water! But we are creating our own generational crisis: In Kansas, we are facing a long-term de-investment in our children’s education. For many, this de-investment will have a life-long impact.
As we spend our time and resources bantering about buzz words like “efficiency,” “money in the classroom,” “consolidation,” and “transparency,” citizens need to understand what is really meant by these catchy phrases. “Efficiency” means spending the least amount of money for schools so we can justify having cut taxes for some wealthy individuals, regardless of how those cuts will impact the whole (community). “Money in the classroom” equals discrediting local board decision-making about how to serve their students, and pretending that students don’t need to get to school, eat while there, access libraries or physical education, or receive any support services. “Consolidation” means setting arbitrary limits on school district size, in order to justify fewer resources to support the needs of schools. “Transparency” equals, well the nicest way to put it is that in Kansas, we get to do whatever the #@!% we want, despite the implications for the next generation!
There are so many issues sitting right in front of us that must be addressed. We could fill a wall with the recent events, any one of which should sound a loud siren of distress. Collectively, we are not paying attention to the things that make for a quality life.
Thornberg reminds us that buzz words won’t jumpstart our economy, or improve communities. It’s people. Plain and simple. It’s not about tax policy, efficiencies, consolidation, or whatever the latest buzz is. It’s people who are seeking quality of life, quality of education, and quality communities with strong infrastructure.
Seems simple enough. Yet, our current system is rapidly moving away from these basic values. Decisions are being made that are sacrificing our collective future. President Lincoln reminds us: “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” I pray we begin to listen, and to do the right thing. It’s Up to Us!