“Anybody who hates dogs and little children can’t be all bad.” – W.C. Fields.
I have been approached recently by two very different organizations that are concerned about children and need a dramatist. Or perhaps, they just need someone with a strong opinion and to that I plead, “guilty as charged”.
Keep the Promise is a two-year campaign to work with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Campaign 2000 and other partners to reignite the commitment of our government to end child poverty. The “Promise” is the unanimous House of Commons vote to end child poverty by the year 2000. It hasn’t happened.
- 38% of the people using food banks are kids, but kids only make up 21% of the population.
- 40% of Canadian indigenous children live in poverty.
- Nationwide, 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year. Ten percent of those are children.
- Toronto reports that 25% of the homeless people in that city are children under the age of twelve. (The Golden Report on Homelessness)
- Canada’s child poverty rates place Canada 24th out of 35 OECD nations. Almost a million Canadian children live in poverty.
- Over 20% of Canadian children are obese.
- While Canada rates as the 3rd best country to live in the world, when it comes to the welfare of children, according to the
United Nations, we sink to 17. Worse than Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
Canadians hate children!
If that seems too strong a statement, console yourself. The American hate their children more. They rank 26 (But it’s because they love their guns so much more!)
But before we congratulate ourselves on beating the Yanks, consider the number of our young people who graduate from university with five figure debts and no work. Our complaisance about the welfare of our youth is actually shocking… which makes me very angry … which is a common response to feeling helpless.
So I am more than eager to take a call from Michael Cooke at “Remember the Promise”. As part of their education campaign, they are considering using my play, Danny, King of the Basement. This would be a wonderful initiative because I have seen, over and over again, how this little play can, in Shakespeare’s words, “catch the conscience of a King”. Hearing the statistics may influence the mind but seeing the reality of a child dealing with homelessness and poverty touches the heart as well. In fifty-five minutes, the audience will never think about poor kids the same way again. My favourite responses were from middle class kids who would say after seeing the play, “I didn’t know a poor kid could laugh” and “I didn’t know a poor kid could be like me”. Notice that the child making that comment is not referring to a character in a play. The child feels that the character is real.
The second organization in question is The Atlantic Presenters Association who are asking me to debate in favour of the following resolution:
Be it resolved that presenters undervalue the quality and calibre of young audience performances, as reflected through ticket prices.
On first blush, this would seem to be obvious. Given the welfare of Canadian children overall, why should we be surprised that children’s arts are undervalued, not just in ticket prices, but in all areas? Germany has 150 professional children’s theatres. English Canada has 13. Quebec has 26. English Canadian Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) artists are paid the lowest, the conditions they work under (a school tour) are the hardest and the prestige they receive from their colleagues and the community at large is the lowest. Despite the fact that, at its best, TYA is doing some of the best and most important work in the country. But the forces lined up against excellence, and they are repeated over and over again, are formidable. Best just ignore them and get on with it.
But here’s the thing. We know, more than any other generation in history, that what happens to an individual as a child will enhance or inhibit that person’s achievement and well-being for the rest of his or her life. Investing one dollar in children has been shown to save much more in social assistance, medical care and the justice system.
I don’t hate my children. I love them and would do anything for them. But our response to children as a nation can and should be improved.