No 613



In 1973, soon after the Vietnam War, Congress enacted legislation doing away with the military draft. They replaced the draft with something called the AVA, which means an All Volunteer Army. This legislation or policy is still in existence today because we have enough young men and women, sometimes with healthy incentives, who volunteer to maintain troop levels for our nation’s defense. What I am going to say next is not meant to be a comparison or derogatory in any way between the different branches of the service and their value to our country, but rather as an example for my purpose in what I want to share with you.
While all branches of military service are important, the Army is especially so because these are the folks who fight on the ground. If you will check out any war, any place, any time, you will find that the taking of real estate is what determines success or failure, victory or defeat. That’s what is happing in Iraq today. Sometimes it’s called house-to-house, but the taking and holding of real estate is what it’s all about. Now, please let me change gears, because I just wanted to use this military example to establish the parameter for what I want to present to you, something I would like to ask you to think seriously about.
While we are fighting a war against terrorism in distant lands, and here, too, there is another war taking place that we must win if our nation is to survive. What I am talking about is the war against ignorance. Really, this is our greatest enemy, the enemy within. This past year we had more than one million students who should have but did not graduate from our nation’s schools. There are millions of others who did graduate but cannot read or write at least well enough to succeed in our highly technological society.
Illiteracy is really the culprit when it comes to our nation’s rising crime rate, illegal drugs and gangs of young people who are failing in life.
While it’s certainly long-term and will take a lot of hard work, we started something here in Conway in 2005 that holds great promise for preparing children in low-income families to succeed and make a contribution to our nation’s future. It should be noted that many of these parents do not have all the resources necessary for their children to succeed. I’ve talked about it several times before, and the project is called “A Bookcase for Every Child.” This is an effort carried out by all volunteers and using no tax money or government grants, to reach small children -- ages 3, 4 and 5 in low-income families -- with the message of literacy and education.
We have people here, and now spreading to other communities, who have contributed “gently used” children’s books, built quality oak bookcases, and helped to purchase the wood and materials to build the bookcases. This is the only cost with our entire project. There is one other phase of our project that is perhaps more important than any other. This is where we have volunteers go to our Head Start Centers each week and read to these children, and they have benefited as well as the children. These are the people I like to call “A Special Kind of Foot-Soldier.” Now, you see why my early reference to the military helps to set the stage, because I want to tell you why I think these people are not only important, but crucial, to our nation’s future.
The key person in this effort is someone we call the “Reading Coordinator,” and we have a lady here in Conway who is doing a fantastic job. Her name is Peggy McKaskle. You may rest assured that Peggy has a heart for children and a heart for literacy, but one thing that makes her so effective is she grew up here and knows most of the people in the community. At the very least she knows those people who are the “pillars” and will do most any task necessary to have a better place to work and rear our families.
I was amazed when I learned all the different people she has reading to our children. I won’t dare call names because I would miss some, and if you read my column in another town or state you would not know them anyway. However, it is important to note that she has had some of the most prominent and successful people in our community take time to read to these children, and that’s what it takes to be successful. Here is the bottom line: Many of the children we work with come from single-parent homes, and many do not have the kind of family and parental support to have a good chance to succeed in life.
In short, what most of these children need is love and to be taught character values that will be the underpinning for a long, happy and successful life. These days, I am learning more about gangs, and the one thing that always comes to light for gang members is that they did not have love in their homes and they turned to a gang as their family who would love them. For the sake of our nation and our children, this is a war that we must win.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)