I hope you took the time to watch the President’s State of the Union speech last night. There’s an interesting graphic on the New York Times website that analyzes the patterns of word use throughout the State of the Union addresses delivered by Presidents going back to 1934. I think it’s a very useful analysis, but the words they chose to focus on— terms like deficit, power, compete, enemies, and terror— aren’t the ones that pique my interest. I was looking for a simpler word: children.
By my count, President Obama used the word child or children 15 times during last night’s State of the Union speech. It certainly wasn’t the most used word— he spoke the word jobs 31 times. But I heard clearly the theme of making the world a better place for our children.
There was a wonderful moment during the speech when the President was talking about the impact of teachers on children’s lives. And he recalled the words of a principal who had revitalized her school so that 97% of the students were graduating, and most of them were looking forward to attending college. One student looked at the principal and said, “Thank you, for showing us that we are smart and we can make it.” What a gift it must have been for that student to finally know his own potential.
I couldn’t agree more that children need that inspiration from their teachers, and it was gratifying that teachers got one of the bipartisan standing ovations last night. Yes, just as the President said, teachers can have the greatest impact on a child—after parents.
But for children growing up in the foster care system, who will be their inspiration? Who is going to show them that they are loved, that they are special, that they can make it not just in school, but in life?
When he talked about children last night, the President was primarily talking about education as a way of guaranteeing that a child’s future would be bright and prosperous. And he pointed out the parents’ role in that—“It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.” Again, I agree. But beyond the obvious need for a strong education, a child needs a strong home. Children don’t just need the love of learning; they need to learn about love itself. And it’s in the home that a child receives that support and nurturing. Every child needs that, particularly those children who have experienced abuse and neglect and who are still searching for a safe, permanent home.
The President said South Korea is way ahead of us in high-speed internet access, so we should aim to get high-speed wireless to 98% of all Americans within five years. Maybe, like the President, we should set a goal for our children’s well-being. After all, 22 countries are ahead of the United States on Save The Children’s Child Development Index (we rank a bit below Cuba, Costa Rica and Argentina). How about a goal that 100% of our children should have a safe childhood? We should be satisfied with no less than that.
If we want to succeed as a nation, then we absolutely have to start with our children. Gandhi said it best: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” We owe it to our children to ensure that our country is not only the best place on Earth to do business—but also the best place in the world to be a child.