An article in the Washington Post online caught my eye recently. The topic was the number of homeless children and teens enrolling in public schools across the United States. Seems, for the 2011-2012 school year, there were over 1.1 million. This is 10% more than the previous year and 72% more than before the 2008 recession. And, the article pointed out, the 1.1 million figure is known to be an underestimate.
Beyond the obvious tragedy in these numbers, the thing which struck me is how much human potential we're throwing away. Growing up homeless and likely underfed, these children and young people are unlikely to achieve their full intellectual potential. Some may overcome their cruel start to become productive members of society but I think many more will succumb to apathy or anger. Now and then, a genius may emerge from this crucible of poverty to do great things, but others of similar intellect will turn to activities which are detrimental to society.
Seems to me, investing in these young people, and thereby ensuring more of them turn their talents to good purposes, would be a far wiser choice than what we're doing today. We're facing some pretty serious challenges as a society and I don't think we can so cavalierly discard our intellectual capital this way. Who knows, properly nurtured, one of these kids might make some critical discovery which benefits us all. The way we're treating them, it's almost like we're assuming that's not possible, as if we think intelligence, creativity, and inventiveness are only present in those of means.
Of course, we know better. High intelligence doesn't necessarily translate into great wealth. Nor is poverty a reliable indicator of low intelligence. No class or strata of society has a monopoly on intelligence. History provides plenty of examples of high achievers who arose from humble beginnings and dolts born into money who contributed nothing or worse.
So why is the world's wealthiest nation willing to have so many of its children remain homeless? Well, there are those of us who are appalled by the inhumanity and sheer wastefulness of what's going on and would see the problem fixed, but, so far at least, we are far outnumbered by those who are apparently okay with the status quo.
The situation brings to mind a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:
"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."
Too many of those in positions of power and privilege in this country are infected with the plague of destructive selfishness and greed which has spread throughout American society. Doing away with homelessness in this country would require them to give up some of the wealth they hold so dear and they aren't willing to do so. As a nation, we have the resources to solve this shameful problem. It's just that we choose not to.
It's not a lack of wealth which thwarts us. It's a lack of will.