Earlier this week, I visited Owsley County Elementary School in Booneville, Kentucky with Cokie Roberts, Save the Children's board vice chair. Owsley County is the second poorest county in the nation, a particularly striking distinction in the midst of the worst economy in generations.
What's even more striking than the very visible presence of abject poverty is the unlikely presence of great possibility for the kids living there.
Cokie and I worked side by side with some very young children who participate in Save the Children's literacy and early childhood education programs.
Operating directly in the schools as a public/private partnership, Save the Children brings in teams of educators and other experts who work together with school employees to give children special reading and other cognitive help.
Serving 50,000 children in 69 of our country's poorest and most remote counties, our innovative programs are like R & D for the next iteration of American education.
Still, one of our biggest obstacles in taking these programs to the next level isn't resources but cynicism.
To promote a mid-February in-depth special about the children of Appalachia, like the those in Owsley County, the special's host, Diane Sawyer, appeared on the O'Reilly Factor.
O'Reilly did all he could to debunk Sawyer's sense of hope and optimism:
- "I submit to you that the culture in Appalachia harms the children almost beyond repair... There's really nothing we can do about it."
- "You know, I don't want to rebuild the infrastructure of Appalachia I want to leave it pristine, it's beautiful."
- "I don't want to sound hopeless about it, but I think it is hopeless. I don't think the government can do anything about it."
The facts prove Bill O'Reilly wrong. During the last school year, Save the Children's public-private partnership programs have helped improve reading skills by 54 percent. In Kentucky, the proportion of children participating in our programs who were reading at grade level increased by 42 percent and, in Mississippi, the increase was 75 percent.
But it's more than just facts that prove O'Reilly wrong; it's the spirit of the American people that does.
For our entire history, the notion of imagining an even better, more perfect America has driven us to go to the moon, elect an African-American president, conquer deadly diseases and defeat fascism and communism in Europe.
And it's why we need the American spirit of possibility -- rather than O'Reilly's fatalism -- to envelop every mountaintop and valley in Appalachia and across America so that we achieve that achievable dream of giving every American child an equal opportunity for success.
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