Woman reading

Frederick Douglass once said “It is easier to grow strong children than to repair broken men.” In South Carolina, so many of our resources are necessarily being allocated to the difficult task of repairing broken people.

The solution is in education, which has three important components in addition to the child: the parent, the school and the community. Of these, research indicates the most far-reaching is the parent. The biggest predictor of a child’s success is the level of positive parental involvement. Data from the annual Kids Count report on child well-being reveals that far too many of our parents are alarmingly ill-prepared:

24 percent of S.C. children are born to mothers with less than a high school degree.

45 percent of births are to single mothers, increasing likelihood of child living in poverty.

20 percent of children test “not ready” for school at age 5.

64 percent of children living in poverty are never read to by the parent.

Family-life skills are both taught and caught. Most parents love their children and want the best for them, but even some of the most concerned do not have or do not take the time to pass on to their children important skills involving finance and family life. Others have not caught or been taught the essential skills a parent needs in order to help children reach their full potential. Too much has been left to chance at all socioeconomic levels.

For example, young adults today have little expertise in financial-management skills, resulting in excessive debt and financial problems. Barron’s reported that in 2009 the fastest growth in bankruptcy filings was among 18- to 24-year-olds. Our education system must inform and equip all our emerging young adults to become literate and effective citizens and parents. Practical knowledge along with academic knowledge is essential.

We must use preventive student preparation to turn educationally impoverished homes into educationally sound environments that ultimately will lift our state out of the unacceptable bottom 10 percent of the nation.

The state’s 2005 and 2006 financial-literacy laws have had very sketchy implementation due to funding problems. Gateways to Success, a curriculum that uses educationally sound, research-based strategies to encourage healthy lifestyles and good decisions for individuals and families, would be an ideal way to provide the needed financial-literacy curriculum. A similar elective course is being taught in many high schools through the family and consumer science division of the state Education Department’s Office of Career and Technology Office. Our advocacy group Reaching Emerging Adults for Life believes it’s time to stop offering such a course and start requiring it.

Former U.S. Education Secretary and Gov. Dick Riley recently noted that education reform is “not just a moral imperative — it is an economic imperative … and more and more a national security imperative.” He notes that under current conditions, only 10 percent of children in poverty will ever rise above that status.

There are no quick fixes, yet no one can deny that there must indeed be a fix. Requiring high school students to pass the Gateways to Success program may not be perfect, but it seems essential and doable even in today’s economic climate. Low-birthweight babies alone are costing South Carolinians $163 million a year; many such births are preventable if proper prenatal care is followed.

Our educational challenges in South Carolina always have been great; so now are our opportunities. Strong leadership action taken carefully and wisely could have a profound, positive effect on the future well-being of our state’s emerging young adults and our state as a whole.

Ms. Martin, a retired Greenville County math and special education teacher and children’s books author, is director of the advocacy group Reaching Emerging Adults for Life. Reach her at jannelle.martin@yahoo.com.

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