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Let Them Go to Prison

Publication Date: 2002-10-08

What to do with kids pushed out of high school in the name of high standards and high stakes tests? Scrooge had the answer: "Are there no prisons?"

When asked to contribute to the World of Opportunity's effort to offer education and job training to students pushed out of Birmingham, Alabama public schools, someone responded:

"Your kids are eligible for Title I money, so you should be looking into that, rather than wasting your time bouncing your sad stories off of me."

Here is Charles Dickens' response:

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, `"a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there."

Allen Flanigan, a Virginia parent, adds to Dickens:

Once upon a time it was common for people to pity those who had lost their sight. People like Helen Keller taught us that those who are blind, whose eyes do not function, nevertheless have other senses which can compensate. We learned not to pity the blind, as they did not pity sighted persons for their shortcomings.

But what about those whose eyes function, but are blind in a different way?

What of those to whom society's outcasts, those "left behind" children, are just "sad stories", dismissed with a wave of the hand, so as to not "waste" time considering their plight?

Is such blindness, like real blindness, the kind which can employ other senses to compensate? Are they to be pitied?

In Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was made to see the fruits of his and his fellow men's blindness by the ghost of Christmas past, who parted his robe to reveal mankind's children, Ignorance and Want. The spirit also pointed out to Scrooge what his moral standing was relative to the "left behind" children that Scrooge had no time to concern himself with (he did not compare favorably).

The fictional Scrooge, of course, had his epiphany forced upon him by spirits, spirits who took pity on him in his blindness. How can we bring an epiphany to those who don't want to concern themselves, who don't want to be bothered with these "sad stories"? How can we make them realize that,though they may strive mightily to avoid catching sight of them or to ignore their plight, these "sad stories" are nonetheless humans, and a part of our world? That whatever diminishes them, diminishes us as well?

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7429 Georgia Road
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