by Jim Boyle
While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, former Minnesota Gov. Al Quie attended a White House Conference on Families.
Two nuns addressed the members of Congress in attendance on the importance of families.
Quie stood up and took them on. “I know some families that do such a horrible job educating kids we ought to take them away from them and put them in foster care,” he stated.
He no longer feels this way.
“I was so wrong,” he told about 100 people who gathered Wednesday at Rockwoods Banquet Center in Otsego for an Early Education Summit.
The former governor of Minnesota from 1979 until 1983 and congressman from February 1958 until January 1979 held court for about 30 minutes and talked about initiatives he’s been pushing since retiring from politics.
He was inspired to fight for people he’s never seen before by his grandfather, who opposed slavery and fought in the Civil War.
Quie, 88, continues to fight for people. He’s involved in prison ministry and the cause of early education and care, which are sadly connected.
He has served on the Ready 4 K Governing Board and has helped lead Prison Fellowship Christian Ministry.
His efforts on the early education front ask the community to come alongside parents, and make it easier for them to develop strong bonds with their children and learn better parenting skills, and for their children to obtain the necessary academic skills to succeed in school.
He sees the downside of failing to reach young children in prison ministry work. Every man he’s ever met in prison is angry with a father who rejected him or abused him.
“Every child is worthwhile,” he said.
He laid out some radical approaches to preparing children for kindergarten. He also talked about ways in which other school systems have reached those who came unprepared for kindergarten and have fallen further behind.
He laid the main responsibility at the feet of mothers and fathers, asking them to consider the lives of Canada geese.
“Did you know when Canada geese lay their eggs and go on the nest their flying feathers drop off,” Quie asked. “The male that goes with the goose loses his flying feathers as well.
“So I tell people in prison when you have a child you have to get rid of your flying feathers.”
Quie mostly addressed the community, and the business community in particular at the summit.
“I’m glad the chambers of commerce are here,” Quie said of the three chambers of commerce that co-sponsored the event.
He later stated: “Businesses ought to get together and discuss how many people work at their places of employment who have children 8 years of age or younger,” Quie said. “Where there are eight or more kids, have a program for them.”
For preschoolers that might mean they are enrolled in a preschool program and that the business supports a parent’s involvement in it. Allowing time away from work in the middle of the day could be crucial, and it could dovetail nicely with Early Childhood Family Education, Early Childhood Special Education and centers.
“I think parents can learn to be parents,” Quie said.
Here in the Elk River Area School District there are 6,100 children who are 5 years old or younger.
“We want to assure every single child is ready for kindergarten,” said Charlie Blesener the director of community education for the Elk River Area School District.
For other businesses with employees who combine to have eight or more young kids it might mean a program at their place of employment, or in a nearby strip mall or some other place in the community.
And for school-age youth, that might mean parents taking their kids to school and later returning to have lunch with them. Quie’s not suggesting this be a state or federal program, but a program that the community develops.
“This, better than anything else, can assure an economic, political and social future we can be proud about,” Quie said.
He believes there’s magic in a parent and child having lunch together for that child and the others around him or her.
“It’s the power of the invisible, where people touch each other, look in their eyes and see their expressions,” Quie stated. “And people can see other cultures and their expressions.”
The dinner table is where differences are set aside and frustrations are released, he explained.
Quie recognized many in the room this past Wednesday were those who work with children every day. He thanked those people and those who don’t deal regularly with young children but who still have an interest and came to the summit.
He also thanked the Early Childhood Coalition, that sponsored the event with the chambers, for hosting it and showing a powerful video by An Ounce of Prevention called “Change the First Five Years and You Change Everything.”
(Editor’s note: To view the video, go to: http://www.ounceofprevention.org/news/downloads.php)
Quie praised educators for what they do and asked them to invest in children emotionally even more than they already have. He also asked the community to assess itself.
“What is the community in the daytime for a child zero to 8 years of age … ,” he asked. “What’s a child’s community at night?”
The poignant video, Quie said, showed a community before the intervention of a pre-school program and a community after intervention.
Quie is a believer in something Dr. Martin Luther King said.
“Don’t do something for someone,” he recalled. “Do it with them.”
He recalled a New York City school that was the second lowest achieving school in the city that got an African American principal who shook things up. He wanted all of the teachers to visit students in their homes.
“The union wouldn’t let him do it,” Quie said. “Undaunted, he set up social meetings with parents.”
In 10 years the school moved from the second lowest performing school in the city to the third highest achieving school in the state — all while the population of the school went from one-third African American to two-thirds African American.
As a congressman Quie fought against laws that didn’t involve parents and lamented when colleagues went another direction.
He says children need love, and they need to be listened to. They all learn differently and at different paces.
“Every teacher that did a great job with our kids invested themselves emotionally,” Quie said. “That’s tough to do, but its necessary to reach out.”
Some children need more than a special teacher. Quie suggests children need an entire community.