by Lois Kerschen
One thing we hear fairly often from pro-life Democrats is that they are sympathetic to the work of our organization, but they do not want to go public with their pro-life beliefs because of possible repercussions (I’m not talking about politicians here – that’s a whole ‘nother discussion).
An aunt of mine once recommended that I remove my pro-life Democrat bumper sticker from my car because “People might not invite you to lunch.” So, if you don’t want to miss lunch with your friends and colleagues who might consider you to be some kind of religious fanatic if you express pro-life views, there are other ways you can achieve the goals of DFLA and of your own convictions without looking radical but instead like a really caring, innovative person who knows how to solve problems in a way that is acceptable to all.
The following describes a project, originated by pro-life Democrat Bill Betzen, that is a perfect example of whole-life work that doesn’t look like pro-life work. The Time Capsule Project for public schools relates to the Democratic tradition of helping the poor, promoting a good education and family life for all, and helping to reduce teen pregnancy and juvenile crime.
Quintanilla Middle School in Dallas is attended by children of poverty who used to have a bleak future because of a high dropout and teen pregnancy rate. Discipline in the classroom was difficult. However, starting in 2005, volunteers have helped teachers with an assignment that asked students to each write a letter describing their goals for the future. These letters were then put in a vault to be retrieved 10 years later.
At first, only 8th graders wrote the letters, but when the school saw unmistakable improvements in academic performance and behavior, even while neighboring schools continued to decline, the program was expanded to 6th and 7th graders and was adopted by feeder elementary schools.
Parents were asked, in notes home from the teacher, to write a letter as well about their goals for their child. At first there was only a 30% or lower response rate, but when the students themselves wrote to their parents asking for not only a goals letter but also a family story, the response rate rose to 85%.
This parental involvement in goal setting and in sharing family history and culture has deepened the bonds between parents and child, increased parental understanding of and involvement in their child’s education, and developed in the children a stronger personal base of self-knowledge, self-esteem, and ambition. A simple thing such as planning for the future with their parents has helped these children to see that there is a real possibility for a good future, and so they have gotten serious about getting there. Discipline problems have decreased markedly, and even before the program was expanded to the high school that most of them attended, graduation rates increased and teen pregnancy decreased.
A recommended component of the project is to have a vault or safe containing the letters in a prominent place such that the students will walk past it every day and be reminded of their goals. There are a number of ways, however, to store the letters.
This program requires volunteers who can sort and file the letters, distribute them back each year to the students so they can compare their thoughts from year to year, and then contact alums ten years after leaving that school. Funding and time commitments are small since all you need is money for a safe and a few supplies (estimated cost is $1/student/year) and the time to sort, file, and distribute letters. Later, there is the task of contacting graduates and arranging for the pickup of letters.
Voila! With a simple, easy project, you can have a tremendous impact on the lives of young people and reduce the rates of abortion, poverty, and crime – all whole life goals.