|Herron addresses crowd at breakfast |
|By JOHN BRANNON |
Messenger Staff Reporter
What percentage of babies were born out of wedlock in Obion County in 2005?
State Sen. Roy Herron asked that question of a sparse crowd attending a legislative breakfast Friday morning at the Obion County Public Library.
From within the assembly came a couple of murmurs in reply: 37 percent; 25 percent.
“It was 43.6 percent,” Herron said. “Almost one out of every two babies, born out of wedlock.”
And what about divorce statistics?
“Tennessee consistently ranks in the top five in the country among states for divorce,” Herron said. “In other words, a higher percentage of our marriages end in divorce. Obion County ranks in the top third in terms of most divorces.”
He paused a moment, then added, “I’m not casting stones at anybody. We’ve had three divorces in my immediate family.”
Herron and state Rep. Phillip Pinion were guest speakers at the breakfast that drew a crowd of about 25. But the implied lack of community interest did not dampen the delivery of a report by both solons. During their hour on center stage, they gave updates on a variety of items of public interest and took questions from the crowd.
The breakfast was sponsored by the Obion County Joint Economic Development Council. Executive director Jim Cooper introduced the two speakers.
Making his case
Herron combined the statistics about out-of-wedlock babies and those of divorce with satellite technology and the Internet to give listeners a sobering reality check about the future.
“I want to talk about broadband,” he said quietly. Just as rural electrification and interstate highways were crucial to rural development in the 20th century, so too will broadband and Internet connectivity be crucial in this new century.
“They have the capacity and speed to communicate information. They are going to be just as important to our children and grandchildren as rural electrification and interstates were. It is a new challenge for us. The world is changing so fast,” he said.
Case in point: You fly Delta Airlines, your luggage is lost. “The person you’re going to talk to about it to try to track down your luggage is going to be in India,” he said.
Case in point: If you buy a Dell computer in Middle Tennessee and have a technical problem with it, you’re going to call and talk to somebody in India.
And sunglasses or prescription lens? Virtually 90 percent of the frames are made in one city in China. “There are over 150 cities in China larger than any city in this state. Over a million population,” he said.
There was a time, he observed, when Obion County competed with Weakley County for jobs, and Tennessee competed with Kentucky. “Now we’re competing with people on the other side of the world,” he said.
He then tied that observation to broadband connectivity and the Internet.
“The reality is that every one of our citizens and every one of our children have the same access and the same speed capabilities as (people) have in urban areas,” he said. “There are children going to school right now, in numerous places in this state, and they’re doing it on computers. They carry a laptop around like you and I used to carry a three-ring binder. It is phenomenal.”
And the Paris school system helped lead the way. “Every middle schooler, when they get into a certain grade, are taken one at a time and they get a laptop.”
What’s going to happen in “a very few years” is that “your children and grandchildren” are going to compete with children who for six and eight and 10 years have been using laptops “like you and I use a cell phone or a telephone.”
“Your kids and grandkids are going to try to get started,” he said. “My boys like to run cross-country. Well, if you spot somebody a six- or eight- or 10-year head start, it’s tough to catch up. At best, they’re playing catch up. One of the things I’ve been investigating and working on for this upcoming (legislative) session is — and I’ve teamed up with educators in this region — how are we going to get laptops for our children? … Kids ought to be able to have a computer and ought to be able to do research, ought to be able to be competitive with kids in other states and other countries.”
Herron said it’s obvious that the Internet was invented in this country. But look at broadband connections and connectivity “and see where we rank in the world.”
“We may have invented it, but we now rank between 17th and 22nd in the world. There are 16 to 21 countries ahead of us,” he said. “And in terms of children’s education, the children right here in northwest Tennessee are just as smart, just as talented, just as willing to work, as anybody. A lot of them are even more willing to work because they grew up with the sort of work ethic that was drilled in you and me and a lot of us who know what it’s like to get out and do manual labor. They are falling behind and I am desperately concerned about it.
“I watched it in my own children. They took the ACT as seventh-graders, and what they did do well and what they didn’t do well in. They were pretty good at things you can do with a book. They can do the reading pretty well and they’re reasonably good in English — things you get in a classroom. But their science scores lagged back and their math scores are off the back of the bus.
“This happened to my kids. I want all our children to be competitive.”
Enter the schools
Society has dumped “a whole lot” at the doorsteps of public schools, Herron said.
Society has essentially said to the schools, “Take these children who don’t have any stability at all and help them. Teach them more than you’ve ever had to teach any other youngsters in the history of the earth.”
“It’s an enormous challenge we’re putting on these schools,” he said.
Society is also saying, “Take them 6 1/2 to seven hours a day, five days a week, 180 days during the year.”
And at the same time, the lion roams about, seeking whom it might devour.
Herron tells of children recently removed from Dresden Middle School by Juvenile Court because they brought drugs to school.
There are drugs in schools, there are children who come from families that are coming undone. In the midst of it all, “We are trying to be competitive economically,” he said.
And this ancient adage that says if you have a strong back and a strong work ethic, you can succeed, has come to a close.
“You’ve still got to have a strong work ethic. But in this generation, ahead of us in this century, it’s not going to be a strong back,” he said. “It’s going to be a strong mind. You will still have to work your butt off. But you’re going to have to have a strong mind to be competitive.”
If northwest Tennessee is going to have the kind of economic growth it wants, it’s going to be up to those who are smart — “Those who study, those who can achieve” — and we’ve got to give them the tools.
Your help is needed
“There’s a lot of things that we have here that folks elsewhere don’t have,” Herron said. “We’ve got the best people on earth, people who care about each other. We’ve got a great sense of community, we’ve got private leaders who make a difference.”
Yet we also have a great challenge.
“If I were going to say one thing to you,” Herron told the breakfast crowd, “it would be that I invite your counsel as we try to figure out how to keep our families together and how to give our children all the opportunities they deserve at a time when competition is greater than it’s ever been.”
Editor’s note: The Messenger will publish a follow-up story with Pinion’s report at a later date.
Published in The Messenger on 10.09.07