In the mail today, the various local governmental agencies announced meetings coming up in these next few weeks at which they plan to show pictures of what our city might or should look like, and the audience is to vote for their favorite vista. It is good to know that someone is interested in our future. Also included were some suggestions: bike to work; recycle; compost; turn the heat down; volunteer in your local school; along with some other ideas.
There are so many young people who feel disenfranchised from society. They feel it is going to be too hard to attain the level of riches, culture, and sophistication that they see on television. How can we help them? Is it too late? If you have enough money, you could tell the eighth-graders at your local school that you will provide them with some tuition for their college if they will keep up a 3-point grade average all the way through high school. It is motivating, but might be expensive. How about paying girls $100 each time they have a menstrual period until they are safely over 19 years of age?
But since more and more available jobs require a knowledge of math, English, and computer skills, it makes sense to me to volunteer to become a big sister or brother to some lonely and frightened first or second-grader. You could sit and talk to him or her on a one-to-one level. Nothing helps the self-esteem more than having some adult pay nice attention to them. No judgment, no criticism: just frank acceptance, like an extended family might give.
This last week, I was invited to talk to the fifth-grade class at a local grade school. The 24 young people in the class had been primed by the teacher that a local pediatrician was coming to talk to them. I have done many of these talks in grade and middle schools. I try to show by graphs and anecdotes how important the brain is when you are trying to think. "The brain is the busiest organ you have, I start. They snicker. I continue: "If the amount of oxygen or sugar drops, so might the grades." I suggest health snacks. The teacher shows the good and the bad cereals. I ask about headaches; they all have some almost every day. I ask about white spots on the nails; one-quarter of the class has them (zinc); half do not remember dreams (B6).
Some are fascinated that their disinterest in school may not be stupidity; it may be the diet. I assume that 10 years from now they might say, "Who was that nice doctor that came to speak to us? He was right, you know." But I may never hear. I need quicker feedback than 10 years.
Most of us feel better about doing something for someone if there is some immediate reward. So the best thing you can do is to talk to the local school and offer your services as a reader or a support person. When they find out that you are not going to molest anyone, they will support your efforts 100 percent. When you read to a child who might be having an effort to learn to read, it makes reading seem easy to him. ("This old guy can do it; it can't be too hard.") Reading to children helps to reduce the lag between their ability to read and their capacity to understand and enjoy literature. You will be more rewarded than the child.
Every adult should be involved with some child project: scouts; schools; child-care agency; home for battered and abused children. We must show the children that we adults are basically nice people and can be trusted.
Lendon Smith, M.D.
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