The ties that connect adults to children are frayed in modern society. The authors call for a return to a community of caring, the central ethos of community schools.
Can you hear the prayer of the children on bended
In the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry,
Turning heavenward toward the light ...
We live in a society that is addicted to a fast-paced drive to achieve success and material gain. Time is often misperceived as the enemy; we never have enough of it to complete all of our to-do lists. What do we sacrifice, particularly for our youth, when we continue with this pace? We fail to listen to the voices of children.
Whose Responsibility Is It?
In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam (2000) describes the state of our society. We are a people who are “too busy” to participate in family dinners and community activities. Our society is on the move, whether relocating to the suburbs, commuting to and from work, or jet-setting from coast to coast. This mobility forces us to connect via phones and computers. Putnam (2000) addresses the pros and cons of our advanced technology, emphasizing that phones and the Internet expand our “networking,” but reduce our face-to-face contact. Many of today’s youth come equipped with cell phones (sometimes seemingly surgically attached) and computers – and are more often found browsing the latest Internet chat rooms. They are in “contact” with other individuals, yet they are isolated from personal interaction that would likely increase their social skills. The cyber-world of connectivity is not yet an intimate village.
The old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” has been politicized in recent years, laughingly rather than lovingly. Instead, our society has determined “it’s not my job” to raise the nation's children. Furthermore, it has added tension to the tug-of-war between parents and schools as to who owns responsibility for “school time.” When a tragedy occurs, such as school shooting rampages or youth assaulting other youth or teachers, fingers are pointed every which way. It becomes more important to find someone to blame than to evaluate the problem in order to prevent it from happening again. Tragedies are “collective” events that universally affect our communities (Putnam, 2000). We all have a responsibility.
Longing for Adult Connection
The cost of our society’s “busyness” and the need to listen to our children's voices is best conveyed by the following story from an unknown author:
Once upon a time, a man came home frustrated from a day’s work. As he entered the house, his young son ran up to him eager for his dad's attention. After a brief moment of affection, he brushed his son off and disappeared into his bedroom.
Moments later, a small knock was heard at the door. “Who is it?” exclaimed the impatient father.
"It’s me, Dad! Want to play catch?”
"No, I’m too busy!” came the reply.
When do you think you might have time, Dad?”
"Later!” came the through-the-door response.
Later at dinner, the son, anxious to talk to Dad, launched into a dissertation about his day. The boy noticed that Dad wasn’t paying much attention, so he began to sit quietly, introspectively, and then he asked, “Dad, how much do you make an hour?”
The father, thinking this was far beyond reason, snapped at his son, “That’s none of your business! You have clothes on your back and food in your stomach; that’s all you need to know!” With that, the father went back to reading his paper and listening to the evening news. He was so withdrawn from his immediate environment that he never saw the sad, tearful expression on his son's face as he eased away from the dinner table.
Later, as he finished reading the newspaper and giving an account of his day to his patient wife, he looked for his son. He recalled the last “insensitive” exchange that took place between them.
He went to his son, who was lying on his bed, his pillow wet with tears. The father tried to explain how some subjects are adult business, and he didn’t need to know how much money he made; his son should know better. As he concluded his explanation, curiosity got the better of him and he asked, “Why do you want to know how much money I make, anyway?”
The young son sat up on his bed and said, “I wanted to know so I could save up my allowance and buy an hour of your time!”
Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner (in Vollbracht, 2001, p. 154) stated, “Every young person in America should have at least six adults in their life who are absolutely crazy about that kid.” Take a moment and think back to your own youth. Who were the important mentors in your life? You didn’t get where you are today based solely on your own accord, perhaps it was an elder at your church, your neighbor, coach, parent, favorite teacher, bus driver, youth group leader, or an adopted grandparent who made an impact on your life.
The Role of Family and Neighborhoods
Families are believed to have three main responsibilities to consider when raising their children (Greenberg, 2001). These include providing for their children's basic survival needs, supervising their activities, and educating them with the critical morals and values in order to be respectful citizens. Greenberg (2001) points out that this cannot be done without help from others. This is where the importance of a “village” comes into focus.
It once was commonplace to see neighborhoods filled with kids playing on the lawns and grownups chatting on front porches. This isn’t the case anymore. We've become a mobile society where people move more and know their neighbors less. Recently, Worthington, Ohio, scheduled a weekend of neighborhood get-togethers so people could meet one another. Many neighbors had never met before this event. A resident who was interviewed for a television news program shared that the idea had come to him after the terrorist attacks on September 71, 2001. Although it is wonderful to hear about the outpouring of community support, it is sad to realize that it took a national tragedy to reactivate the village. Sampson (2001, p. 28) proposed “the three neighborhood R's – rules, resources, and routines – that are important for improving our community focus. He explained that it is the structure and function of the neighborhood that is critical to the development of our children, not just the fact that children live in a neighborhood.
The second author remembers growing up at a time when the community helped raise children. The community included not only immediate and extended family members, but also the local police, teachers, and the parents of the children's friends. On more than one occasion, if some activity occurred that was inappropriate, it was not uncommon to be reprimanded several times over before arriving home. “Sixty percent of American youth [today] don’t know someone well enough in their neighborhood to ask for help if they need it” (Benson, 2001, p. 72), let alone be disciplined by the community. Communities that cooperatively raise their children do not mass produce disrespectful children.
Regardless of the generation or the country, all young people want to be loved and valued. In No Disposable Kids, Brendtro, Ness, and Mitchell (2001) discuss the critical importance of caring:
Being reared by caring adults is essential to the development of character and conscience ... Secure in love and limits, children are prepared to extend their positive relationships to school, peers, and the communitv. When these bonds are broken, youth are on a pathway to trouble. (p. 9)
This echoes what Vollbracht (2001) states about the importance of just “showing up” for kids-both psychologically and physically. If we don’t show up, we certainly cannot hear their voices.
Throughout this issue, the concept of community schools is discussed and explored. It is important to see how communities throughout the world are working to listen to the voices of our children. We only stand to gain when we allow ourselves the opportunity to reach out and connect with another human being. The growth of any community is nurtured one child at a time.
Benson, P. (2007 ).1 n J. Vollbracht, Stopping at every lemonade stand: How to create a culture that cares for kids. New York: Penguin Group.
Bestor, K. (1995). Prayer of the children. On Prayer of the children. (Cassette). Salt Lake City: UT: The Pinnacle Group.
Brendtro, L. K., Ness, A., & Mitchell, M. (2001). No disposable kids. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Greenberg, M. (2001). Developmental and ecological considerations in implementing community action strategies for children and youth. In A. Booth & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Does it take a village? Community effects on children, adolescents, and families. (Pp. 211-221). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schustcr.
Sampson, R. J. (2001). How do communities undergird or undermine human development? Relevant contexts and social mechanisms. In A. Booth & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Does it take a village? Community effects on children, adolescents, and families. (Pp. 3-30). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Vollbracht, J. (2001). Stopping at every lemonade stand: How to create a culture that cares for kids. New York: Penguin Group.
This feature: Ness, C. M., & Ness, A. E. (2003). Can you hear me? Are you listening? Reclaiming Children and Youth, Vol. 11 (4), pp. 200-202