Elvis was correct

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2011

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

Little did I know that these truisms I was taught as a small child would serve as a cornerstone for my judicial philosophy decades later as a judge.

In the spring of 1969, which was at the end of my sophomore year in high school, Elvis Presley released as song entitled “In the Ghetto.” The chorus to the song contained the following words:

“People don’t you understand

the child needs a helping hand?

He’s gonna be an angry young man someday.

Now, some 40 years lager, extensive studies have shown that Elvis’ common sense statement was precisely correct.

These studies have shown that unfortunately, tough law enforcement is not enough to prevent the rampant crime in our streets today. However, the bright side is that a simple investment in early childhood education DOES prevent crime later – and contributes greatly to a child’s being a successful student, which leads to graduation and a productive adulthood.

Too many young people entering kindergarten today are not “school ready.” They have not been exposed to a learning atmosphere at home in any manner whatsoever. They arrive at kindrgarten already way behind their classmates. Not only do they know nothing about what is going on, but they have not even been exposed to grasping the fundamental of knowing how to learn. They are already terribly behind the curve. Therefore, they have little interest in learning and pursue other avenues instead, school misconduct often being one of them.

I have had kindergarten teachers tell me “I can tell you right now, in future years, you’re going to be seeing (fill in the name) in court.” In other words, the handwriting is already on the wall, because a child is so far behind that he’s already falling through the cracks, just as the floor begins. This is not the fault of the teacher. There is no substitute for a good home environment with two loving, nurturing parents. However, a large percentage of children today know nothing of such a home.

Fortunately, help with the education component exists in the form of pre-kindergarten programs. Studies have shown that pre-kindergarten is the most widely implemented school reform that produces solid graduation rate increases. Unfortunately in Alabama, too few of our young children have access to high quality early learning programs in the years leading up to school. Seventy-four percent of our 4-ear-olds are not enrolled in the Alabama Pre-Kindergarten program. Head Start, or early childhood special education programs. So it is not surprising (but it is very alarming) that in Alabama, almost 4 out of 10 high school students fail to graduate from high school on time. The social cost of that statistic has very devastating consequences for our state and keeps us ranked at the bottom among other states in many categories.

Alabama has been fortunate to produce national championship football teams two years in a row. Only one other state has that distinction. We demand and expect excellence of our football teams. That mindset of excellence must also be applied with equal vigor to investment in our children in the years from birth to five.

“No man stands taller than he who stoops to help a little child.” We must throw a lifeline to our children in Alabama by investing in high quality preschool and family strengthening programs, to build their learning foundation so that they can pursue excellence throughout life.

Trippy McGuire is the district judge of Covington County and board chair of the Alabama Partnership for Children.