Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Matt Miller on Hurricane Sandy and Plight of Poor Children

Matt Miller with a powerful, thoughtful column on the similarities between Hurricane Sandy and the plight of poor children – yet the very different responses by oursociety:

There’s something powerful yet perplexing in our response to the havoc wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

The universal impulse is empathy for those who’ve been hurt through no fault of their own and a determination to mobilize collectively via government to ease the pain and fix the damage. Yes, of course, there are utility contractors, religious groups and nonprofits like the Red Cross doing essential work – every hand is needed on deck — but we rightly expect government to lead when it comes to coping with calamity.

The perplexing thing is this: Why is our moral instinct so different when it comes to natural disasters like Sandy as opposed to slow-motion man-made disasters, such as the fate of millions of poor children languishing in failing schools? Why do some bad things that are outside people’s control elicit empathy and a thirst for urgent response – and other bad things outside people’s control persist for decades in the face of de facto indifference?

We can pretend otherwise, but indifference is ultimately what we’ve shown poor children in the United States. These kids come into the world with disadvantages beyond their control. As a society we then make matters worse by leaving them poorly fed and largely untutored before they reach school age and then by assigning most of them to the least qualified teachers and shabbiest school facilities in the country.

The impact on their lives – not to mention the loss to the economy, when so much human potential is left untapped – vastly exceeds any damage Sandy will do. Our indifference helps explain why upward mobility is now greater in most of Europe than in the United States.

Yet we don’t see wall-to-wall coverage. We don’t see Ali Velshi reporting for hours from urban classrooms whose kids are knee-deep in despair just as surely as if they were treading water in Atlantic City. We don’t see Erin Burnett tracking the tide of neglect that’s lapping at these students’ feet just as Sandy swelled the waters Burnett patrolled in lower Manhattan.

When a hurricane hits the eastern seaboard, Florida, or New Orleans, or when tornados hit Alabama, or when an earthquake hits California, or when levees overflow in Missouri, or a terrible draught hits the Midwest, we’re all in this together. But when millions of people lose their homes to foreclosure, they were greedy speculators; when millions of people lose their jobs through no fault of their own and go on food stamps and receive unemployment benefits, they’re worthless leaches on society. What are we coming to??? It’s always been the core of the greatness of America that we all feel like we’re our brother’s keeper for our fellow citizens, even if our brother has different color skin, prays to a different god, was born in a different country, loves someone of the same gender, or (heaven forbid!) votes for someone of a different party. So sad…

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