Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do our values show up in our policies?

Why I asked you a question on Facebook...

A very generous colleague of mine who directs a research center has years of data indicating that children, mostly very poor children, who have assets like 529 college savings, experience improved health and wellness outcomes.

Although his distractors say that the child’s parents, more specifically, the child’s mother will spend the child’s savings, his research indicates parents leave that money alone as it is viewed as helping their children get an education and out of poverty.
The problem is that although there is sound, historical data supporting efforts to provide saving accounts for new born children, this idea does not sit well with policy makers. There are states that provide modest saving accounts for children and this was accomplished by framing this effort as – “job readiness.”

We began to discuss how to develop a different framing in order to better connect with folks.

I think to reach and get the attention of a large audience the approach has to tap into something that is deep, personal and equally shared across gender, age, politics, etc. For instance, consider the statement, “No child left behind.” This was the work of Ted Kennedy (D) and George W. Bush (R).

In reality, the general American public cares little about child welfare. However, the general American public does “support our troops.” Americans hold the idea/value that on the battle field; we will leave no soldier behind. It is un-American to abandon anyone in war. It is a crime to “abandon your post.” Our most valued heroes are those individuals who were willing to sacrifice themselves to save others.

The framing of No Child Left Behind, hits deep with us. We are all in favor of not leaving anyone behind – especially children.

Think about the recent events where our government used its resources to return one American hostage held in Afghanistan for several years after he left his Army unit (NOTE: After rescuing him, he is now being charged for abandoning his post and could go to prison). Where ever Americans go in the world, they are protected and valued by our idea of what it means to be an American. President Carter failed when attempting to go after hostages in Iran. Americans were upset not at the attempt – but the failure.

It is a deep seated American value that we leave no American behind.

Our “academic” framing of helping children in poverty has to tap into that same broad American value.

The above link is a story about a man who entered a school bus, killed the bus driver and took a child hostage. The dead bus driver was an instant hero. The child is the victim and the man who took the child was the villain.

Every American – every human – values the safe return of that child. Every American agrees with the framing of that story and the players involved.

If Al-Qaida, ISIS or any “outsider” took a group of American children hostage and forced them to live in a rundown shack, feed them just enough to survive, did not provide them with medical care when sick, and blamed them for their own situation – Americans would demand, at any cost, to bring them home.

However, there are about 16 million children “held hostage by poverty.” Poverty forces children to live in inadequate structures. Poverty forces malnourishment. Poverty forces children to live without proper medical care.

If poverty was a foreign government, Americans would not allow this treatment to our children.

Unfortunately the idea of defending children or declaring a “war on poverty” carries a military framing. Also, the war on poverty was declared in the Johnson administration and ended in the Clinton administration with the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.  

War or defending framing is powerful and Americans are strongly connected to warriors. Below is the ending of the recent “American Sniper” movie. This sniper had 160 confirmed kills in Iraq and Afghanistan – killing men, women and children.

A war or military framing widely connects with folks and is a deep value. However, these are played out. Declaring war on anything has been a mess.

Considering a different framing

There is however an American value that is also deep rooted and baked into our DNA. Whenever there is a crisis or life-threatening situation people value who gets protected first. This has beginnings with a sinking boat, in the novel Harrington: A Story of True Love, 1860.

Women and children first!

It was later widely expected and popularized during the sinking of the Titanic.

The “captain going down with the ship” was also expected during the same time. This is a very powerful value.

Americans love heroes and would love better to be one.

Above is a story where Captains did not go down with the ship. They saved themselves – being one of the first off the ship. People were furious with these self-seeking captains and one will most likely go to prison.

The value that women and children are first is very powerful and cuts across all types of Americans. And those adults who save themselves first, is out of step with that value.

A greater and deeply seated value is the idea of “women with children go first.”

Females with children in many cultures are treasured. In the animal world, such as wolf packs, females and pups are the highest priority. Wolf packs are structured just like human families.

The mother and pups remain in a den and are protected by the other wolves. All the adult wolves take care of the pups. Adults bring food to the mother so she can care for her young. When the pups begin to eat meat, all adult wolves brings food to the pups, play with them, and make sure they are safe.

Wolves will fight to the death in order to protect their pups. Their system and survival depends on the health of their females and pups. These behaviors are directed by Mother Nature (DNA). When faced with the choice to protect themselves or their young – there is no choice. They do not stop and consider things. They don’t evaluate or plan the outcomes. Behaviors and nature are interwoven.

American families hold similar DNA.

Often times we focus on new policies without ever looking at or debating our current policies.

So, to play out our current policies: if a group of Americans were face with a crisis, like being inside a burning building, the natural, innate act would be to ensure women with children get out first.

This is why I asked that question on Facebook. Most responses were in favor of the woman holding the child being first out of a burning building. We value – in our behaviors – protecting mothers and their children. Honestly, who could be against this? This is cooked within our DNAs.

I asked on my Facebook post:
Question: If you were in a burning building with a group of other folks, who would you pick to be FIRST out the door? Assume they are all healthy.

Middle aged man
 Teenage female
 Female holding her baby
 Retirement aged female
 Teenage male
 Middle aged female
 Teenage male

Who is FIRST to safety? – pick only 1

Female holding her baby. Why?
Female holding her baby
Male not make
Is this a trick? You have teenage make twice?
Female holding Baby
Female holding her baby
Female w baby
Female holding the baby
Female w/baby - not because there's anything special about women & children but because it's two for one.
Female holding baby because all would let her go first
Female holding the baby, although may not be my choice to choose who goes first. Teenagers would be last. Haha
Female holding baby
wondering why "self " is not on the list? baby is first....
The first person I came to. They all hold unique value.
Why are they standing around waiting to be dismissed from a burning building? They are all healthy and can make the decision to run or perish.
female w baby
 (Please note that this Facebook question is not scientific as I pick my friends because they most likely have similar values.  I may need to de-friend a few folks as the result of this question though!). 

From our current policies, if older people were in a burning building along with other community members, these older folks would be allowed to push aside or basically run over women with children. Older people get out of the building first.

Now, we value our elders and should. When I asked my youngest son, who is 13 ¾, he picked women with children to get out first. His second pick were elders. I asked a follow up question: Son, if you were the elder in a burning building would you pick yourself to leave before others, like getting out before teenagers or anybody else? He quickly responded – no. 

Under our current policies, if the Titanic happened today, life boats would be filled first with older folks.   

In the good ole US of A

The elderly, by law, get: $1.2 trillion.

Our children, get: $444.7 billion.


The largest category for children's spending is tax credits.

These behaviors (policies) go against our DNA and are also Un-American.

Our American heroes/elders would not allow this to happen. And people want the opportunity to be a hero.


This framing taps into an old, established value that women with children are precious members who must be protected and respected.

If potential danger approaches, we sacrifice ourselves for women with children. If we are in a burning home, adults should not run over a woman holding her child. If that happened, Americans would be infuriated at such self-seeking behavior.

We want older folks to get off the sinking boat or out of the burning house safely. However, it should not be our policy that they lawfully get to stampede over women holding their children.

Thanks for your help and Peace, DAP

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