Philosophy isn't very filling.
Children who come to school without anything in their tummies would prefer a slice of toast and some juice, I'll bet.The topic has been on my mind since a meeting of the State Board of Education recently in which there was some emotionally expressed concern about youngsters who leave home in the morning without being fed - not to mention those who are mentally and emotionally starved.
Board members swapped a few horror stories - the child whose family refrigerator contained only two items, liquor and orange juice. And the child was forbidden to drink the orange juice.
Or the child who seemed OK but confessed to a school official that he was being torn by the necessity of choosing between parents as they divorced. Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic were obviously not on the mind of that child.
In the end, the board concluded, informally, that it does not want to take on the responsibility of seeing that children are physically nourished before they are expected to undertake the rigors of schooling.
Instead, the board adopted a philosophical position that it will try to help families become more able and more inclined to take care of their own children better. Parents will be encouraged to provide the moral and physical support children need to succeed in school and in life. They will be urged to create an atmosphere that promotes character and positive motivation in the children.
Nothing wrong with a philosophy like that, except -
Tomorrow, thousands of Utah children will begin the school day with nothing to fuel their busy little bodies. Thousands of minds will wander away from the task at hand as empty stomachs demand attention. The prospects of the next food to be had will be infinitely more important to those thousands than whatever is on the academic menu.
For hunger to take a toll, kids don't have to be starving on the scale of the pathetic skeletons of Africa and other Third World countries. The human mechanism simply doesn't function efficiently without food, even if starvation is not imminent.
Unfortunately, the board's philosophy is likely never to seep down into the layers of society where the problems fester most sorely - to the strata where parents can't, don't or won't provide that positive home life the board seeks.
The problem isn't a new one and it defies easy answers. Most Utahns resist anything like a welfare state where every need is provided by the community. The argument is that society fosters irresponsibility when it picks up the load for individuals who are failing to carry their own.
But making children suffer for the inadequacies of the adults in their lives seems a poor solution.
Simply put, how much of society's failure is the community and the school expected to absorb? Expecting families to shoulder their responsibility isn't unreasonable. It's just unlikely in a certain percentage of the population.
Every parent who is positively affected by the board's campaign to bolster families will be a benefit to the state and the board is to be commended for the effort.
But results certainly won't happen quickly. Not fast enough to save thousands of hungry children from failure in school. And those thousands will, in my opinion, continue the cycle.
The sadness is that at the other end of the equation - at the point where all those hungry children become adults and are, too often, added to the ranks of welfare recipients, criminals and social misfits - there is no question whether society will pay the bills. It will. We'll build prisons and support huge law enforcement/justice systems. We'll underwrite enormously burdensome social programs and pay in a hundred ways.
In comparison, perhaps, the costs of school breakfast could be small.