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Thoughts on the Theme: Summer 2023 — What do we mean when we say, “Children are our future?”

What is it about children? They can melt the hearts of the most curmudgeonly misanthrope, test the patience of Job, and show astounding awareness of the world around them—at the same time.

We speak of children as “hope for the future.” Each of us reading this was once a child. How have we done? Have we embraced hope? Expanded it? Abandoned it?

And what of the future? The effects of climate change, a turn toward autocracy in bulwarks of democracy, violence in the name of religion, wars waged for dreams of empire or imagined power, millions of immigrants seeking new homes because of corruption, war, climate change or intolerance, unchecked greed in the name of profit, gun violence at children’s schools, implacable poverty and exploitation, a resurgence of racist practices all paint a rather bleak outlook.

And yet children play, attend schools, prepare for a future. Some, against all odds, cast off their pasts to make a future for themselves and others. Others remain lost. Still others, boosted by the right action of parents or neighbors or friends or governments, find a path forward. Toni Kincaid Bambara says “Children are eternally valid, are eternally the reason for right action.”

So what is “right action”?

This issue of Works in Progress offers a few possibilities, while also acknowledging barriers to it.

Our lead article suggests sensible growth for Olympia. Does Olympia need to annex an area to the southeast when such expansion cannot sustain itself? Jim Lazar suggests not: “All evidence to date shows an adverse effect: annexation would impose more expense on the city budget than the revenue produced by taxes from the annexed area.” Such expansion would affect schools and infrastructure necessary to assure a future for Olympia’s children. So it seems that annexation would not be the right action for children’s futures.

Articles by Margaret Thomas consider the right action of education. More men are needed in schools, particularly elementary schools to offer role models to boys and offset the problems Richard Reeves outlines in his Of Boys and Men. Reeves suggests a “redshirting” of boys, delaying their start in school.

In her review of Reeves’ book, Thomas points out that “the benefits [of redshirting] aren’t so much that boys arrive at kindergarten later, but that they get to middle and high school with the maturity that sets them up for a chain reaction of successes.” Such success can be accomplished without the turn to for profit charter schools, which, as Ilana Smith points out in “Hidden in Plain Sight,” dupe would-be teachers into believing they are supporting a public good when in fact they find they are exploited for the benefit of a corporation.

And Steven Marquardt reminds readers of the paraeducator, whose low pay does not match their high value, particularly for children with special needs.

John Van Eenwyk suggests that while city leaders do not see the deleterious effects of continuing to support a failed port in Olympia, “our youth do. They stage 20-minute ‘die-ins’ at the City Council, yet nothing is done beyond token minimalism.”

If children are the future, perhaps city leaders should listen to them. But one wonders if city leaders have abandoned, instead of expanded, hope, despite the hope signaled by the activism of youth.

In “Influencing how our communities grow over the next 20 years” Esther Kronenberg and Charlotte Persons suggest that “right action” for our children can be found in getting to know and joining The Local Good Governance Coalition, which monitors planning. And in recounting the history of the Columbia Street Food Co-op, Anna Schlecht finds lessons in grassroots democracy—“for consensus process, perhaps best described as full-fledged democracy ”—and sustainable thinking—“communities work best when they have control over how they meet their essential needs.” She offers a double dose of hope.

Back to the future, so to speak, Enrique Quintero, in “The Splinter in the Eye,” questions a future’s very possibility. In a system based on profit, people and the planet lose: “putting profits over everything else is like having four or even five bullets in the chamber while playing Russian Roulette.” In his article on the resurgence of child labor, Sam Pizzigati decries “the number of kids employed in direct violation of existing child labor laws,” and notes that “analysts at the Economic Policy Institute this past March reported [that child labor] has soared 283 percent since 2015—and 37 percent in just the last year alone.” Apparently profit trumps even children.

In “Breeding Hope,” Lindsey Bineau wonders about her and her husband’s decision to have children when she knows their children will “live through climate catastrophes worse than anything we’ve experienced.” But children will also, she writes, “feel the relief of sunshine on their faces on a rare cloudless winter day. They’ll learn to value the plants and animals around them for their intrinsic beauty”—not simply for profit. And so she and her husband opt for the possibility of hope, even love, in their decision to bring children into the world.

My poem on war suggests that war is as quotidian as a child reciting the ABCs, while Lenée Reid’s poem, “Breathe,” says that if we “worshiped water and air” instead of war and money, there would be “enough goodness everywhere,” “plenty to eat,” and “the right to breathe.”

The review of Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, By America, points out the sobering statistics of poverty in a “land of plenty”—the stunted futures and thwarted hope it breeds. “Like an Old Testament prophet,” Desmond decries the lie that we don’t have the money to fund anti-poverty policy. He calls this the “great lie” of poverty amidst plenty and calls for “poverty abolitionists” to rally for a future without poverty through social action.

Social justice is “right action,” and like Works in Progress itself, it offers hope for a future—a messy, difficult and fraught future, to be sure, but a future nonetheless—one that might provide children a chance to “breathe” and “feel the relief of sunshine … on a rare cloudless winter day.”–Ed

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