Be Thankful for What We Have

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, "Opinion," November 21, 2000, p. 11A

Thanksgiving Day is coming.

Those of us living within the circulation area of this newspaper are so lucky we ought to make every day Thanksgiving Day.

To borrow from Ms. Browning, "let me count the ways."

Our exceptionally good schools, with their dedicated teachers and staff, quality students, generous volunteers, supportive business community and involved parents rank near the top of our list.

But let's put them in context.

There are qualities of life in Johnson County we so take for granted they may not even make our list of blessings two days from now.

I won't dwell on the slight difference between our genetic makeup and that of other mammals. Nor that we're living during a time when we needn’t worry about the sun burning out. I'll accept as given our good fortune in being born into the human species on a still-livable planet.

But clearly we are the rich relations of the human family.

It really is an application of the line, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.” Children in 68 countries are threatened by 110 million unexploded land mines. Our kids may face risks, but none will lose a leg from land mines.

We complain about the taste of Iowa City water, or the smell from the sewage disposal plant. But 10 million children under 5 die every year because their village has no sewage system at all, and no source of disease-free water.

We think we’re underpaid. But many of us are already in the top 1 percent of the world's wage earners. Over half our human family struggles with substantially less than $750 a year.

We want the fastest Internet connection, now that everyone on Earth can get access to all the world's knowledge. Everyone? Well, not quite. One-third of the world’s population has no electricity. Not even a light bulb, let alone a computer.

We want one telephone in every classroom. Most countries would settle for one telephone in every village.

We're concerned about crime, notwithstanding Iowa’s near-crime-free statistics. But we needn’t worry about warring factions torturing, killing and driving us out of our homes.

We're debating our future crowded schools and teacher shortage. Compare World Bank President Wolfensohn’s description of some other countries: “You build schools and there are no roads and there is no water to the school and there is no power and you cannot get the kids there, and when they get there, there is nothing to teach them with because there are no teachers and no curriculum.”

Measured against the realities of human life on Earth we have much more to be thankful for than first imagined.

The children in our schools, for the most part, enjoy good health, aren't starving, and come to school capable of learning. They have one or more parents who care about their education.

They not only have school buildings, they are usually safe, clean, and well-maintained by a dedicated staff. They all have heat, light, electricity and telephones. They have some of the nation's best teachers.

They have "media centers" well-equipped with books, supplies, computer clusters and Internet access.

We want to improve students’ attendance and reduce dropouts, and we should. But don’t forget the 250 million children in the world who will never see a primary school.

We want to improve our students’ reading ability, and we should. But knowing there are over 1billion illiterate children keeps those reading scores in perspective.

We produce more National Merit Scholars than any district in Iowa. But our students' opportunities aren’t limited to book learning.

There are before- and after-school programs. And enough activities and programs that every child can excel at something. Chess, math clubs, a full menu of athletics, and multiple top-quality music programs.

Can we improve? You bet. But let’s take a moment on Thursday to give thanks for what we have.

Nicholas Johnson is an Iowa City School Board member. More information is available on his Web site