Monday I spent most of the day listening to several presentations regarding the future of the local county commissions on children and families. The state commission is slated to cease existence on June 30, 2012, by legislation passed and signed by the governor this past session. No one is clear as to what this will mean for the local commissions. What is clear is that the governor has made a pledge to aim state resources at ensuring that all children in the state of Oregon will be ‘ready to read’ by the time they enter first grade and that all children will be reading at grade level by third grade. Those are huge promises.
I agree with the governor’s direction, but there are several assumptions that need to be questioned. First, not every child is at the same place developmentally at the age they begin first grade (or even by the time they have reached third grade).
Second, there appears to be an underlying assumption that the state has the responsibility to determine goals and objectives for children. My work as pastor and my work with Healthy Families of America/Healthy Start of Douglas County has made me aware of the reality that some parents are poorly equipped to help their children. But does that mean it is the state’s role to set the direction?
A third assumption is that our public school system as currently constructed is capable of achieving these goals. I have been involved in public education since the early 1990’s and wonder if the system is truly able to accomplish such a task. So far the evidence is sketchy at best.
Fourth, there are a myriad of state agencies (as well as federal programs) all claiming to have the best interest of children and families at the core of their mission. Over the past ten years I have been deeply involved in community action partnering with some of these organizations. There seems to be a tendency for organizations to become entrenched in their own culture and to believe that they and they alone have the best solution to whatever the problem might be.
I wish I had solutions (I do have opinions!). An unasked question at most of the meetings I attend and most of the discussion of which I am part is this: Exactly what is the role of government? Where does the responsibility of the parent end and the responsibility of the school/government begin? Maybe an even more important question: when did churches abdicate their responsibility to walk alongside parents in raising their children?
So far my best advice is to get engaged in the process. Attend meetings, ask questions, send emails, make phone calls, read and study the reports that are being produced. Then, take out God’s Word and read, pray, and meditate seeking to understand God’s purposes and plan.