Opinion | A Valentine’s Day in which children actually come last

Ron Koehler is an assistant superintendent in the Kent Intermediate School District

Ron Koehler is an assistant superintendent in the Kent Intermediate School District, where he works with the business, philanthropic and government communities.  

Happy Valentine’s Day, kids. You’re our top priority.  

Except when you’re not.

Which is pretty much all the time, if you are to believe the World Health Organization and researchers from Johns Hopkins University Medical School, who have concluded the United States is the "the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.”

Our most recent Valentine’s gift to children was the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida. Fourteen students, a teacher, an athletic director and football coach were gunned down by a suspect believed to be a former classmate and troubled 19-year-old.

A study published Jan.18 in the journal Health Affairs found that U.S. teenagers are 82 times more likely to be killed by firearm than in any other wealthy developed nation in the world. Researchers concluded the wealthy nations most like the U.S. are the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Before we parse this discussion into one of mental health vs. gun control, let’s dig a bit deeper. Our lack of concern for children begins far earlier than their exposure to gunfire by individuals who can legally obtain assault weapons in virtually every jurisdiction within the U.S.

The study used as sources the Human Mortality Database, which analyzes data from 38 countries, and the World Health Mortality Database, which tracks mortality and causes of death for 114 countries.

Our nation’s infant mortality rate is 76 percent higher than the 19 other members of the OECD cited above. That along with all other sources of mortality, including gun and motor vehicle deaths, put children and young adults in the U.S. at greater risk than any other wealthy nation.

If the U.S. had performed as well as its peer countries between 1961 and 2010, researchers concluded, more than 600,000 deaths of children from birth to age 19 could have been avoided over those 50 years.

Let’s think about that a minute. Look around you. Imagine a disaster that could wipe out virtually every man, woman and child in Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids. That’s what 600,000 childhood deaths represents.

"There is not a single category for which the OECD 19 had higher mortality rates than the U.S. over the last three decades of our analysis," wrote Dr. Ashish Thakrar, lead researcher for the Johns Hopkins study.

Students Suffer Academically, Too

U.S. educational neglect is almost as devastating as the disastrous deaths of infants, teenage auto accident victims, and those gunned down in school shootings and other incidents involving weapons.

The Pew Research Center reported a year ago that U.S. educational performance in math, as measured by the Programme For International Student Assessment, lagged each of the 19 OECD nations. American students topped just five of those countries in science and four in reading.

Michigan, of course, is now near the bottom of performance among the states nationwide. That could be due, in part, to the dramatic underfunding of our schools identified early this year in research commissioned by the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative.

That study found general education students with no special needs should receive nearly $2,000 more per year in resources to achieve state standards. Students who are economically disadvantaged, English-language learners and children with special needs require far more resources to meet proficiency on state-prescribed standards.   

Nearly every policy maker elected to any state, local or national position higher than dog catcher or drain commissioner will tell you his or her highest priorities are the health, education and safety of children.  

I know what my 86-year-old mother would say to those office holders after reading this column.  She’d say the same thing she said to me when I argued innocence after failing to meet her expectations.

“Actions speak louder than words.”  

This column was previously published in School News Network

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Larry Peplin
Thu, 03/01/2018 - 9:19am

There is much irony to be found in the attitudes those who are vehemently "pro life", but who disregard many safeguards that can be utilized to protect our children after they are born. Their precious Second Amendment has become far more important than protecting the lives of our children. Pro life? No, that's pro-birth, and then it's, "You're on your own, kid". Let the guns flow and the bullets fly; learn to duck and cover. Is this really the best we can do?

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 9:44pm

Interestingly the same OECD stats showing our sub-par results show that the US is at the top of the heap in per student spending, if this was stated I missed it.
Regarding our violence problem, are you saying that the other nations of the world have the same number of disturbed individuals wandering around wishing they could kill other people but don't just because they can't get a hold of a gun? Somehow I doubt this.

sam melvin
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 8:37am

school funding went up from 1990 ....$ 4,236
to 2001,,,,,,,,,$ 6,648.......... 56.9%

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 5:19pm

I am curious as to what those funding numbers since 2001 would be. I hate to ignore the last 17 years. Please cite where those numbers were extracted from.