Iron Knees, Climate Change, and NCLB

Just the other day, President Bush stood in the White House Rose Garden and urged Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In so doing, he emphasized that schools must be held “accountable.” Broadly speaking, Mr. Bush is right. Institutions that serve the public and play a vital role in the health and well-being of local communities and the nation at large should, in some measure, be held to task. Of course, the devil is in the details, and there is much difference of opinion about what it means to be held accountable.

The irony of Mr. Bush’s words is that he demands a level of accountability from others that he is not held to himself, thanks to both the neoconservative cohorts who guard his flanks and the members of Congress who, in effect, kiss his flanks (when Senator Lieberman makes room for them to do so). Despite the many egregious and unlawful actions of this President, he remains undeservedly in office and has largely escaped accountability, court of public opinion notwithstanding. The aforementioned irony has presumably escaped him, as well. (Indeed, one may speculate that this former C student believes irony to be either an artificial leg joint or the purview of the White House laundry staff.)

Another irony that has likely escaped Mr. Bush is that, while he trumpets that no child should be left behind, he simultaneously vetoes legislation (SCHIP) that does just that! Apparently, it is acceptable for children to be left without health care coverage but unacceptable for these same children, who may attend school with untreated physical or psychological maladies, to test poorly. Where is the justice or good sense in that?

And that brings to mind the issue of climate change. Children typically occupy two climates, home and school. Both these locales occupy the broader climate of a community. If a child’s home or community is a harsh climate, i.e., if it lacks sufficient stability or nurturance (as, for example, occurs when violence or substance abuse or neglect is pervasive), the child will likely suffer in some fashion. When they change climates and go to school, they bring with them not only their backpacks and lunches but also their weathered selves. How they subsequently perform in that setting has as much, if not more, to do with the nature and quality of the outside climates to which they are regularly exposed (and must daily return) than with the greenhouse-like climate of the school. It is patently unfair to expect schools to make up for these disparate and disadvantageous circumstances, over which they have limited, if any, control. Blaming schools for failures that principally occur elsewhere makes no more sense than shooting the uniformed messenger who delivers tragic news.

A child’s day begins and ends at home. If the President and Congress sincerely aim to ensure that no child is left behind, then they must look beyond the schools and somehow address the other climates that are influential in the lives of children. A failure to do so is just another painful kick in the iron knee.