Who’s Looking Out for the Children?

Who’s Looking Out for the Children?

Bob Sornson

We live in a time of incredible opportunity, with exponential increases in information, technology, and opportunities to share and connect.  It is a time of possibility, in which we could build a more prosperous and secure world.   Yet for all the energy, innovation and wealth available to us, our children may not live in a world made better by us.  The foundation of their future is being poorly tended.  The quality of life of our children and grandchildren is at risk.

If we allow our children to grow up with stressed lives and a lack of consistent home routines, we can predict that many will not develop the calm and responsible behavior patterns needed for learning success.  If we allow children to grow up without limits and without struggle, and exhibit a lack of self-regulation and self-efficacy, they will not persevere.  Without effort and without learning success, there will be casualties.

In the information age learning success is a prerequisite for life success.  If we allow children to have poor quality language experiences, substituting entertainment devices for real human language experiences, there will be casualties. 

If we allow kids to be poorly nourished, with little movement and physical play in their lives, there will be casualties.

If we allow our children to become socially isolated and distracted by a constant barrage of video entertainment options, there will be casualties.

If we allow children to endure poor quality childcare and preschool programs, there will be casualties.

If we put children into curriculum-driven classrooms, and race though content without matching instruction to student needs or readiness, and without ensuring that crucial learning skills are competent, there will be casualties.  

Every child who becomes a chronically frustrated and disengaged learner in the information age is a casualty.  By fourth grade 67% of the children in America are non-proficient readers and on their way to becoming learning casualties.  By fourth grade, 80% of students receiving free or reduced lunch are non-proficient readers. 

Every generation of adults carries a responsibility for future generations of children.  But we’ve made decisions about how to live our lives at home, in society, and in our schools which jeopardize our children and grandchildren. We have chosen a pattern of self-serving or easy decisions which are changing the historic commitment to leaving our children the opportunity for a better life.

We have borrowed more than $55,000 for every man, woman and child in America without any honest plan to repay this debt.  Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are due for bankruptcy. Our pensions systems are a mess.  This is our legacy.  Leave it to the kids. 

We have allowed our national infrastructure to deteriorate.  Roads, bridges, water systems, and power grids that were the envy of the world are falling into disrepair.   Leave it to the kids.

We have degraded our natural environment.  We foul the air and water.  We devise complex regulations which we poorly enforce.  We add chemicals to food, clothing, and building materials, and then sadly lament the unprecedented increases in diabetes, allergy, autism, and obesity. 

We have corrupted our political system and our media.  A calm and respectful study of issues seems to be a vague notion from the past.  Small groups of billionaires levy incredible power.  Much of the electorate is poorly informed.  Leave it to the kids.

For a short while we were the only superpower in the world, but we failed to take advantage of this incredible moment in history and lead the world toward a stable peace.  Leave it to the kids.

Our education system is based on a 150 year old factory school model.  We’ve spent decades arguing about what content to cover, without devising a system that ensures competent learning and behavioral skills, especially for our most vulnerable children.  While other nations rapidly improve their education systems, we muddle along with NCLB and politically negotiated waivers.  We introduce new and untested evaluation systems on top of new and untested federalized content standards.  Teacher anxiety is at an all-time high.  The hard work of systems redesign has been evaded.  The best and brightest young minds are appalled by our education system and avoid going into teaching.  This is our legacy.  We leave it to you.  

We have created monstrously complicated and inefficient tax systems, health care systems, and regulatory systems.  These systems primarily serve those adults who are tediously employed within them.  Leave it to the kids.

While I was growing up in the 1950s, our nation was building roads and bridges, creating businesses and jobs.  Every year the future looked brighter for our children.  It wasn’t perfect, but opportunity was in the air.  Throughout the history of our nation, there has been a clear commitment by each generation to build better opportunities for our children.  We have managed to change that pattern.   

We have radically degraded the future for many of you.  Some of you lack a love of learning, high-quality learning skills, a willingness to struggle, and values of hard work and responsibility.  We have stupefied and politicized the discussion about how to improve our schools and our society.  To all of you we leave you a boat load of environmental, political, social, and financial debt.    

In spite of all this, we are at an amazing time in history.  Ideas and innovation are transforming the world, and some of you will reap the available bounty of opportunity.  If you are a capable learner, with decent work habits and skills that are needed in the workplace, your prospects are good.  If you are a poor learner or uncommitted to learning and effort, your prospects are poor.

Many individual families and some communities have continued to hold tightly to values of family and personal responsibility.  They continue family traditions and routines.  Everybody helps do chores for the family.  Respectful speech is modeled and practiced.   Family mealtime is protected.  Media distractions are limited. Learning is valued.  Respect and tolerance for others is expected.  But other families are struggling in the chaos of busy lives and personal challenges.  Lacking networks of support, they are not sure how to set limits, maintain family routines, and speak respectfully with each other.  Reality television is the standard for family behavior.  Digital networks offer them their closest personal connections. 

Information, innovation, and connectedness are changing the rules, creating wealth, and might make it possible to build a more prosperous and secure world.  But only if we start acting more responsibly in our own homes.  Only if we find thoughtful leaders dedicated to service and to building a society which is filled with opportunity for everybody’s children. 

While information and innovation offer us unimaginable opportunities for peace and prosperity, we have failed to hold on to the old commitment: leave a better world for our children.  Out of indifference or ineptitude, and with a large dose of piggishness, the generation that grew up singing “All you need is love,” has chosen to take as much for itself as possible.  We leave you an educational system that does not match your needs in the information age.  We’ve borrowed against your future, while taking generous benefits and services for ourselves.  We’ve neglected to maintain our roads, our bridges, our civil liberties, our civil discourse, our spiritual lives, and the stability of our families. 

Our generation of leaders has shifted to a different path.  We figured out that we don’t need to raid foreign nations for our plunder.  We’ve cleverly found an easier way.  We are plundering the future of our children. 


Bob Sornson, PhD, was a teacher and school administrator for over thirty years and is the founder of the Early Learning Foundation. He is dedicated to helping schools and parents give every child an opportunity to achieve early learning success.

Bob is the author of numerous publications, including Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning about Empathy, Stand Up and Speak Up for Yourself and Others, Essential Math Skills: Over 250 Activities to Develop Deep Understanding, The Essential Skill Inventories (Pre-K to Grade 3), Fanatically Formative, Successful Learning During the Crucial K-3 Years, Creating Classrooms Where Teachers Love to Teach, and The Juice Box Bully

Contact bobsornson@gmail.com