Back to a Bootstraps Mentality?

Written by: Jessica Landgraf

Primary Source:  Green & Write, April 6, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” This quote has renewed meaning today as we continue to get briefs about the possible impacts of the proposed federal budget cuts. A number of these cuts would directly impact early childhood education, families, college students, and universities. While it is nice to think that anyone can make it through hard work and determination, this view doesn’t recognize the assistance that likely helps make it possible.

Early childhood programs like Head Start and Early Head Start, that serve our youngest citizens, are trying to provide more equitable footing from the beginning. Without these programs, many of the children who are most in need of this wraparound care won’t have the opportunity to receive the services that help to get them ready to start school.

Throughout childhood something as simple as food can have a huge impact on achievement and learning. While school breakfast and lunch programs administered by the USDA aren’t touched in the proposed budget cuts, other programs such as the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program are. This is disheartening, considering that this program serves mother and children too young to be in school yet, therefore not able to participate in school feeding programs.

Impacting both families and children are cuts to afterschool programs. Without these programs, parents will need to find alternative care for their children. This will result in either an increase in latchkey kids, altered work schedules for parents, or other costly program options will have to be considered.

Students at the tertiary level of education also have reason for concern. Many students are only able to make the decision to attend higher education because of the financial assistance they qualify for through federal work-study, TRIO programs, or Pell grants. Students and their families have always been aware of the tradeoffs between heading into the workforce immediately after high school or making the decision to pursue a higher education degree. The assistance that is currently provided by the federal government for families with financial need allows that decision to be more about the prospect of the future than the limitations of the present.

Programs currently on the chopping block spread from infancy, childhood, adolescents, to young-adulthood. With the supports that have helped several generations strive for something better in jeopardy, what message are we sending? Apparently we are taking a step backwards and returning to a time when it was believed that one only needed to pull on their bootstraps to make it.

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Photo Credit: Cafe Credit via Flickr, under the Creative Commons License

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