OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but I bet it got your attention!

Today was lawn day and, even though it is Labor Day, Rick can’t afford to take a day off. So there he was right outside my office window like he is every Monday afternoon hacking away at my weeds. We’re usually winding down the lawncare routine about this time of the year because I don’t have a sprinkler system and am too lazy to lug a hose and sprinkler around my half acre to keep the weeds green. I’ve discovered that brown weeds don’t really need mowing so I save the water bill and the mowing bill. I usually feel guilty because I know I’m depriving Rick’s six kids of their father’s income so I find other jobs for him to do around the house.

Today, Rick had his young son in tow. I’m ashamed that I’ve forgotten his name, but he’s quite a little angel. He just started first grade, but he can’t remember his teacher’s name. His English is quite good even though Rick rarely speaks English with him – a point I frequently nag him about. His mother never speaks English and resists learning. I think she’s just afraid.

I wonder what Little Rick (I’ve got to call him something!) thinks when he goes out working with his father. Is this something he sees himself doing in twenty years? Or does he see how hard his father works in the sweltering Texas heat and desire more? Does it even occur to him that he could be a doctor or the kind of businessman who sits in an office instead of a pick-up truck. Rick is hard working and very reliable. He built a home for his family with his own hands. They go to church every Sunday, and his family is always well fed. I hope his son sees that and follows that lead. But I also hope that he isn’t limited in thinking about his future.

And heaven forbid that anyone else should impose limits on him!

I know a little bit about that because I was very busy today writing a discussion guide about the achievement gap among students in Central Texas. Here’s Tim’s story that I’m including in the guide:

Tim still remembers his fifth-grade teacher saying educational tracks (test scores and teacher evaluation) would determine their future. High track students would grow up to be doctors and lawyers. Middle track were destined to become secretaries and nurses, and the lower track students would probably be garbage men or unemployed. She then distributed the results that supposedly could predict their fate. Some students were elated. Many more were devastated. Ironically, there was a close correlation between High track placement and high family income and low track placement and skin color.

A wise youth, Tim knew that something wasn’t right about his placement – middle track, low expectations. Fortunately, Tim’s parent defied his teacher’s expectations and encouraged him to succeed. Now Tim shares that message with other young people as the Lead Community Organizer for Austin Voices for Education and Youth, a career path his teacher never considered!

But you are probably still wondering about my overly-dramatic title.

Well, it occurs to me that I was so busy writing this discussion guide that I may have missed an opportunity to influence the very child who is vulnerable to the achievement gap. Oh yeah, I chit-chatted with him for a few minutes. But I could have brought him into my home. We could have read one of the children’s books I keep on hand. I could have shown him games on my computer.

But I didn’t.

I was too busy working a guide to help others solve the Achievement Gap problem. That’s important, but as we think about how we help all children succeed, let’s not overlook the power that each one of us has to influence one or one hundred children in such small but significant ways.

It’s really hard to “save the world” and it’s way too easy to lose a child.