Solution in Our Midst

20131030_143006My husband teaches language arts in our local middle school and he receives publications from NYSUT (New York State United Teachers). I was struck by the recent cover photo and the statistic: 1 in 4 children in New York live in poverty.

When I think of poverty, the first thing that comes to mind is food: having enough food. The idea that a child who doesn’t have enough food can’t function well in the classroom makes sense to me. The idea that 1 in 4 children experience this in my state is mind-boggling. I do know, however, that we haven’t met the need for food in our community and that the same is true in other communities.

The article focuses on the gap between the rich and the poor:

    • Poverty as the daily reality,  the fundamental obstacle that educators, health care workers and public service providers face each day – in rural, suburban or urban communities.
    • Economic policy, deregulation, tax structure, political will, debt battle, government shut down, polarization
    • The widening gap between rich and poor, the hollowing out of the middle class.

U.S. Capitol Building

The article states that there is “little to suggest that change is in sight” which is typically where we end up in our adult conversations. There is little to suggest change is in sight because we continue to look in the direction of the above. As adults, we have created complicated scenarios and we argue within this web. We argue more than we accomplish. Well not all of us. It’s time we turned our attention to the solution makers.

Some of us have heard about Pam Koner or the project called Family-to-Family. Some of us have joined with her to create the solution that is needed: shared prosperity. Pam is a project originator, a role model, someone who can help us replicate. We can build with her, with those who already do. We can educate our children about this need and solution. We can participate with our children.

1987 (10)It’s time we turned the the focus of education and the attention of our youth toward the solution makers – to learn from them, become involved with them. It’s time to provide opportunity for our youth – the next generation – to participate in generating these solutions; to learn how to work together with clear goals, how to tend to the self and to others; to experience how good it feels to accomplish goals and make things better.

All that we need, we have. We have allowed the wrong models to take center stage for too long. We are more intelligent than this. We need to look in the direction of where the real power to change lies – among ourselves as a people. We are doing it – in small and large scale. We just have yet to position what we have to hit the home run and see our efforts come together in truly large scale.

We Can Start Now; We Don’t Need Permission

We can start now. We don’t need permission. There are no obstacles. We have everything we need:

  • A unified service learning curriculum
  • Schools nationwide
  • Non-profits in every community
  • Project originators
  • Internet
  • One office


slnewcycle_000Service learning is an established methodology for coordinating traditional academics with genuine, real life, current time, community needs. Bringing genuine community needs to the classroom for problem solving is not new. Problem solving in this context inspires students to engage in their learning environment. Service learning is incorporated into college curriculum for education majors nationwide. Teachers do not need permission to use service learning. It is a simple, well-founded, available teaching tool.

Our youth are desirous of the relevance and real-life interaction that service learning brings to traditional academics. We have come to discover that without genuine student engagement, grades drop, assessment reveals lack of knowledge, high school dropout rates increase, and even those students doing well may not be inspired to go to college – unsure of where they fit in the larger life context; unsure because we have excluded them from real world involvement during their formative years. Although they tell us what they need, we have yet to listen and create a solution with them.

DSCN5837Our community based non-profits have always been desirous of support from community members, and they actively invest in educating our youth, coming to our schools to describe the work of their organizations. Community non-profits are immediate in response to the opportunity to engage in service learning projects with our youth, moving beyond initial introductions to their organizations to define specific needs, provide statistics, and confirm the real life value of students’ contributions. Our non-profits hope for continuing, cooperative working relationships with community members.

MVC-009SCommunication systems allow us to coordinate with immediacy – beyond the classroom, beyond our local communities, beyond our state borders. Our youth and teachers have the tools, the support, and the ability to reach out to their peers – to compare and assess needs, solutions, and progress. We live in a country where we don’t need permission to communicate and coordinate, to come together to problem solve among ourselves with resources at hand.

Solution models are up and running in communities across the world. We can link our youth in widespread solution making with project originators – project originators who can instruct, and involve our youth; to not only create in the present, but to sustain into the future; to not just talk about needed change, but to initiate and sustain it.

Montreal July 1999 (5)We have become accustomed to delay. We have become accustomed to inaction. We have become lax. It is time to embrace that which we can do: to identify needs and solve them with the tools we have; to coordinate without debate; to make things better. We owe this to our children. We owe them far better role modeling than we have been providing. We can start now. We don’t need permission.

Obesity: A National Concern

There are numerous studies and reports on obesity as a modern day epidemic in our country. The solution seems simple: we need to move, to be active, to exercise, and we need to consume foods that are good for us, whole foods, balanced meals, reasonable quantities. None of this is new. The dilemma is how to correct a misdirected impulse that has permeated our population.

Starting at the beginning, looking for root areas to grow the right end result, brings us to our youth. As a nation, we can start together with our youth in their educational environment.

Early Sprouts program for preschool children
Early Sprouts program for preschool children

There are so many things we need to teach our youth about our world – including immediate problems in need of solution. We are fortunate that as we find ourselves in the midst of an issue to problem solve, like obesity, that there are those among us who have been developing solutions. These are solutions that we can tap and work on together – we can share these models – we can share the outcomes and next steps. We are fortunate to have the ability to communicate with immediacy. We are fortunate that our youth are able to engage in technological communication with prowess.

Healthy attitudes toward healthy foods
Healthy attitudes toward healthy foods

The solution models we have been building can be woven into a well-integrated education alive with real-life relevance. We can include models that increase physical activity, models that explore whole foods with our youth, models that wrap this into organic gardening and cooking, models that incorporate vermiculture, composting, and recycling. Our system of education embraces so many disciplines, creating a single location for work in all of these areas.

There is, quite simply, no societal dilemma we face, or problem in need of solving, that we cannot bring to the education of our youth and teachers for problem solving. It is a think tank predisposed toward activism, with youth desirous of inclusion in real life, real-time engagement, wanting to act upon that which they are taught. We can educate and problem solve at the same time.

A K-12 service initiative brings to mind, at first, the idea of helping those in need, which is true. However, a service initiative addresses any genuine community need. Environmental concerns, health concerns, economic concerns, and more, all find their place in a service initiative that embraces the betterment of mankind and the world.

Coordinating the classroom with families at home
Coordinating the classroom with families at home

It is time to use the resources we have and link them to education with an established tool – service learning – and begin making the changes needed, together. We can initiate this now, among ourselves, with a modicum of coordination support from the government – a government which was designed by our founding fathers to help us come together as a nation of people with common goals.

We can draw from models we have created that are of the people, we can create more together, by the people, and better our local, national and global conditions for the people.

Education and National Security

Two perspectives on national security stand out to me.

  • Readiness to defend – military preparedness to do battle
  • Preventative measures to avoid conflict – building trust and cooperation globally.

General-Myers_home-pageFor those who address our national security from the perspective of readiness to defend, we are weak and vulnerable. Mission Readiness describes itself as a “nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders calling for smart investments in America’s children.” They released a report titled Still Too Fat To Fight, and share the following on their website:

Currently, 75 percent of 17- to 24-year olds in the U.S. cannot serve in the military, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a serious criminal record.  A quarter of young Americans do not graduate on time from high school, a minimum requirement to be eligible for military service. Even among our nation’s high school graduates, nearly one in four seeking to enlist cannot join the Army because of low scores on the military’s basic exam for math, literacy, and problem-solving. 

We can address physical and intellectual fitness by sharing and replicating outstanding models that are creating the desired results among ourselves. These solution models need to become common practice that is sustained – for youth nationwide. We have models for physical fitness, and we have models for nutrition that are comprehensive and well-conceived. Research on the effects of service learning have shown that student engagement in academics increases, providing the link with relevance our youth need. Ethical fitness becomes embedded in a curriculum that joins all youth in working with the non-profits in their community, engaging with their sister-city peers, and bringing environmental solutions to their communities. Accomplishing large scope common good becomes a consistent focus in their education.

Building humanitarian relations best begins among youth globally. Their collective altruistic qualities will head us in a better direction. As adults, we continue to drop the ball, we continue to find impasse instead of cooperation. Not so for our youth or our social entrepreneurs. It’s time to join youth with outstanding social entrepreneurs to create the outcomes that elude adults. It’s time for adults to yield and learn from these populations. Consider the impact of every school district adopting a sister city in a developing part of the world. The sister city component of the K-12 service initiative would provide our youth with a checklist of global projects created by global social entrepreneurs; it would create sustained relationships between youth in developed nations and youth in developing areas of the world – youth growing together in solution making. What would the outcome be a generation later when these youth come together to problem solve as adults?

National security is one of many issues that a K-12 service learning initiative would address. The initiative refracts with light as through a prism into many needful issues and areas of need. The initiative will bring us to another era – one of sustainable peace, progress, and prosperity.


Let’s Fix Food Insecurity

“An estimated 100 billion pounds of food, enough to totally eliminate hunger, is thrown away annually in the United States. It does not have to be this way.”

It’s nothing short of amazing that we continue to allow this contrast to exist without correction. We have the supplies, tools, and intelligence to fix this issue, but we don’t. At what point do we ask ourselves as the adults in charge, “How is this educating our youth?”

At home we role model for our youth – watching our behaviors and choices. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt best, in the realm of food insecurity, we volunteer with our youth to model giving and care for others. We have yet to step back and realize that we are educating them to allow the unconscionable to exist among ourselves – in each and every community – to allow others to remain hungry – while we periodically apply a temporary patch to the problem. We should be collectively embarrassed and apologize to our youth for this ongoing gross error on our part.

As adults, we are preoccupied. We continue to focus on problem solving as we always have. We form the same committees, with the same charges, asking the same questions, creating the same reports. Our adult mass stands in the way of progress as we continue to accept minor, temporary improvements for basic survival needs. And we have the audacity to evaluate the academic progress of our youth while we make very little progress at the national level.

The opening quote suggests that we can meet the need for food. Let’s prove it. Let’s fix food. It’s easy. It’s inspiring. We need to coordinate – not as we do at present, but from the bottom up with our children. We can combine the best models to create a system of solution that is known nationwide; a system operating in every community; something we all know and understand.

Media File of  Revised National Projects ChecklistGiven tools and opportunity, our youth, with their teachers and parents would create a lasting system of solution. Youth need to become part of the overall system of change. They need practice in creating, assessing, and sustaining these systems. Youth will reorient our thinking and teach us a better way – a way that is possible. Our youth need to engage in their communities. Our youth need to feel the altruistic side of their nature converge with the goals of education. Youth need to see the match between the problems they see in the world and the goals of education.

Food is an easy place to start. Let’s demonstrate our capabilities,track our outcomes, and fix this. Once we see how we can come together – how our youth can lead the way – we will see how we can approach other areas. We can rediscover the largess of our compassion and the strength of our intelligence to create outstanding progress.

An Antidote to Bullying

PUNK 498918_48076806Bullying that escalates to violence doesn’t cross the path of all our children. Violence sits at the extreme end of a spectrum of shades of insensitivity to others. Violence is the end result of an infection in full bloom, requiring aggressive measures to contain the spread of the infection. From a preventative perspective, we need to grow an environment in which the shades of bullying cannot find fuel to grow.

What if, in addition to programs that address end-result outcomes of violence, we were to judith_boyden_school2approach the early years of education with community building activities that promoted inclusion and friendship among our youth? What if we were to consider a simple, low cost activity that can actually accomplish this outcome, with additional positive benefits?  There are community members who have discovered that knitting groups create an inclusive community experience that enriches and strengthens academic performance:

Elementary school program:

  • Students as young as six participate
  • Students make friendships and mentor their peers
  • Intergenerational relationships are created
  • Skills learned:
    • Persistence
    • Concentration
    • Follow-through and mastery
    • Improvement in fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination.


Middle school program for at-risk students:

  • Caring, one-on-one relationships develop between adults and youth
  • Afghan squares for donation to charities are often first projects
  • Promotes:
    • Problem solving
    • Critical thinking
    • Creativity


The two programs above come from New Jersey and Oregon – community members working the same territory, finding the same results. We can learn from them and adopt these programs with youth nationwide. Outstanding projects that are creating the results we need can be brought to all of our youth, not just a few school systems where these projects originate.

A community member in upstate New York shared this example:

Years ago I taught a blind girl (2nd grader) and her mom how to knit.  The daughter went crazy knitting scarfs.  She used pencils, and anything with a point.  Her classmates started to take an interest in her after.  She had been treated poorly by many of them because of her “difference”. The teacher and her mother put together a program where the blind girl began to teach her sighted classmates how to knit.  The mother taught the other mothers… The community of caring grew from those knitting needles, friendships formed, and a little girl felt community for the first time!

Yarn - CopyKnitting is one example of a solution we have created. There is so much we can build – with existing resources – with low cost, available resources – that will grow an underpinning beneath the violent outcomes at the forefront of our problem solving. We can work from both ends of this equation to create a result that will not only address a widespread infection but replace it with a strong, healthy, sustainable, growth pattern that will spawn more of the good stuff we are capable of creating together as a people.