In January, my sister-in-law and I cruised through Panama Canal to visit several other island nations and took the opportunity to walk on the beach, practice our deteriorating Spanish, and renew ourselves before returning to Idaho's traditionally chilly February and, as it turned out, March. Those two weeks flew by, with lots of good music, bartering, and eating fish tacos for breakfast, not to mention watching the waves on the beach. So much fun for this Idaho girl.
It was a Tuesday and school was in session, and reality hit when seven children (under ten years old) met us outside the port-of-entry building, begging for pesos and American candy, which we gladly supplied. We were sure they were starving, but candy canes and a handful of chocolate kisses which had been in my Santa stocking, nothing really substantive for eliminating real hunger pangs. The kids tolerated my broken and probably incorrect Spanish, and we quickly became friends, until I ran out of candy, that is.
As I walked further down the street toward the beach, we passed several teenagers, smoking and begging for pesos so they could purchase cerveza. I couldn’t help but project that the first group of wide-eyed children would one day be begging for pesos for cerveza.
I was heartbroken to learn that many of these children never go to school and never learn to read. Some only learn what is taught on the streets: being kind to gray-haired tourists who might give them pesos and candy.
It makes you think! Each generation enters the world with a clean slate, ignorant of all of the world’s past accomplishments and failures. The Puritans knew that, and in 1636 built the first American institution: Harvard University, a school. They wanted their children to learn to read for many reasons, most importantly for them, a devoutly religious people, to read the Bible. Later they realized that only an educated society could be a democratic society. Thomas Jefferson emphasized this with his statement, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free. . . it expects what was and never will be.” In order to maintain democracy, we need an educated populace. I’m sure you parents will be clicking your heels the day they return to school. In the meantime, encourage them to read.