clement mok home  |  on record  |  career  |  musings
« Back Children and Education  
Musings 01 February 2000
A presentation given at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conference in Monterey, CA



Related Links
» TED Conference
The subject I like to talk about today is children.

A topic that was touched on in different ways by different presenters throughout this conference.

The subject of children was rather foreign to me.

I do not have children and I don ’t teach

My interactions with children in my professional life and personal life are rather limited. Weekends and holidays with my cousins ’ nephews and nieces don’t make me a subject expert on this matter.

I have two golden retrievers and I treat them like children and I am sure that doesn’t qualifies me either.

It seems like the only qualification I have to tackle this subject was that I was a child once.

I’ve read books and journals.

I’ve reviewed statistics

I’ve looked at how media portray and talk about children... from newscasts to Jerry Springer Shows. Nothing was off limits to me.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about children. The more people I asked the more there is to know.

As with any design about understanding , one had to have a point of view. A non-parent perspective might just be an interesting approach.

I soon found out non-parents constitute about a third of the adult population in this country. We connect the dots a little differently, so I think it will be a point of view that would be interesting to the group here.

I like to begin with a story.

We all have a story like this one — especially with an audience of over-achievers that are in this room.

It’s about how we all got to where we are today?

Some of us were born geniuses and some of us needed a little more help... like myself.

I never would have become a designer were it not for a Mr.Rand who took interest in my studies a long time ago. No, this is not the famous designer, Paul Rand. It ’s Walter Rand, my high school print shop instructor. I spent 2 years in his class and I learned how to run an offset press and letterpress. I figured out the in ’s and out ’s of stripping film and blocking furniture and setting type for type galleys. Things that are now totally irrelevant.

It’s not REALLY what I learned, however it ’s the fact that Mr Rand encouraged me and mentored me. And most importantly he believed in me.

When you are 15 years old, the pressures to conform were unbearable. He provided a place in the shop where I can go after school hours to tinker with my new found interests.

He gave me permission to do things that were different from the rest of the kids. That experience built my self-confidence and helped my decision to pursue art school.

Later on, I attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena... just up the street from the Rose Bowl. That education led me to where I am today. For a time there, I was not so sure whether I was going to make it.

The first assignment I had to turn in for a rendering class was for an instructor affectionately as the “Drill Sargent ”. He singled out my assignment as the worst drawing he had seen in his entire career. I was devastated and I was ready to quit school that day.

I will probably be chartered accountant at this point.

So where did I start with the topic of children?

I started with a fuzzy goal of trying to understand the problem. Very often the ability to understand the problem is the problem....so what is the problem?

We know there is a problem.

I started with the simple premise and an assumption we all have about children. Children as citizens in waiting... but when you look at the facts...they are not.

They cannot vote. They can ’t lobby for themselves. When something is wrong, they are not heard from— unless it ’s Littleton or Connors. And when we hear from them, we can ’t make sense of it. So who speaks for, who advocates and who watches out for this constituent? Is it just parents, educators, social workers and politicians?

Just pay attention to the media and you ’ll soon get my point.

The way we talk about this subject is in sound bytes...either as statistics or stories that are neatly packaged. And when you start to unbundled these facts, they presents us with every issue of major concerns for us as a people....from violence, to poverty, to education, to health care, to child care, to affirmative actions, to welfare reform...the list goes on.

The problem is huge to comprehend.

Again, what is the problem?

As Arianna Huffington pointed out yesterday, it is as if there are two nations in this country. The have ’s and have-not ’s. If we believe in one country we have to come to terms with the fact that Children are at risk in this country. At high risk, if I might add.

It ’s risk that concerns life or death.

Just think about it.

13% of every child in this country is at high risk.

It means that they are not educated properly, they are sick, they are hungry and they might not have a home or parents. In short, that ’s more than one in ten person who will become a criminal, a drug addict or die of an early age.

Children is about a third of our population

A third of all children are being raised by single parents.

Nearly a third of all children are living with parents who do not have full time, year round employment.

One out of 5 children is growing up in poverty

One out of 5 people waiting in a food line seeking help is a child.

It ’s not right.

A child is killed by guns in this country every 2 hours...that ’s a classroom full in every two days

Since 1968 almost 950 thousand Americans had killed themselves or killed other people by guns.

We are producing or importing a new gun every 8-sec...when we have 200 Million Guns in circulation already

We are the richest nation on this earth.

We are first in the number millionaires and billionaires

We are 17th in lifting our children out of poverty.

No other industrialized nation lets its children be the poorest group of citizens

There are many more shocking statistics, which you can find in the book...

In trying to understand the problem, I ’ve looked at how we ’ve been solving the problem.

I ’ve looked into welfare reform, health care reform and education reform programs. I ’ve read stories on chartered and magnet schools ...stories about how parents, teachers and school superintendents overcome the odds.

As John Doerr and Dean Kamen have demonstrated ...The solutions are out there but they have not been scaled to address enormity of the problem.

The other thing I found was how easily we are distracted by the bureaucracy and the mechanics of trying to make these change.

Take for instance, the welfare reform efforts. The debate was mostly on policies, entitlement and funding. We feel good about making progress in ending welfare as we know it, but we are not ending poverty as we know it... and we know poverty is one of the key contributor that puts kids at high risk.

It ’s just damn difficult to get your hands around the problem.

For instance when we are examining the subject of education, it ’s not just about school district funding, classroom size, money spent/child or curricular standards.

The discussion must also consider how to give every child a strong early childhood foundation so that they can get ready for school and for life.

We need to provide good pre-natal care so that they are born healthy as they can be born.

It also means having health care and a place to live... Shelters should not be part of the experience of growing up here in the U.S. We also need to look at child-care.

The people who work with children the most often in the early year are the least well paid.

The average child care worker is paid $13K annually without benefits.

It ’s just not right.

Our tendency is to isolate the problem and tackle them one at a time with programs, initiatives, studies and reallocation of resources.

Children are rarely at the center of these conversations.

It ’s usually the problem that ’s getting the attention...not children.

We have to look at our children and make them feel they are valued and secure and that they are able to learn. This is not just to parents but also to non-parents.

It ’s not just helping the problem child to learn but Helping ALL children to learn.

We must get children back into the agenda. The conversation needs to be children-centric.

The more I looked, the more I realized the problem we have is not size or complexity... There is no shortage of ideas, solutions or resources.

The problem is our mindset and it needs to change.

Parents know this problem all to well already

We all live very busy and demanding lives.

We work hard to make a living and if you are single like me, encounter with children is somewhat limited in professional as well as personal life.

When children are not part of your life, they are invisible. And when they are invisible, the problem is invisible. Children is someone else ’s problem. I am guilty of this mindset.

I used to think that parents, educators or social worker know what is best for children... and since my contact and knowledge is limited, I should just stay out of their way and support them financially.

I soon realized this was not enough...after some reading.

Children in Poverty is a problem and that it should of concern to me. Poverty --> Crime --> Violence and it ’s a domino effect.
There is another kind of poverty in this country.

The kind of poverty that does not show up statistics.

That poverty is “Emotional Poverty ” and it ’s all around us.

The poverty we have is our time and our commitment.

Our commitment as a society to place children ’s priorities ahead of policies, careers and things. I am guilty and I suspect many of you are as well.

Just listen to the rhetoric ’s about the new economy. It ’s about commerce, transaction and business. I am not sure “More, better, faster ” is what we want our kids to learn.

If we want our children to serve and have some sense of intrinsic value then we have to find a way to shut off all the selling....Children are treated as consumers and everything is about things...we really do have to be better role models. If we want our children to be honest and not be materialistic. We have to be honest and not be materialistic ourselves. And children in particular are watching us because that e their cues on what kind of human beings they should become.

Our children are very confused. We don ’t have a children problem. We have an adult problem.

Let ’s make sure each of us make a commitment to be a good role model...in the way in which we conduct ourselves on a regular basis.

Children very seldom do what we tell them to do but they always do what we do

Besides being a role model, what else can each of us do

Pay attention

and be aware of the fact that we are mentors for our children. Mentoring means committing time and making yourself available to children. It ’s about making the emotional investment on the future

Children need people who believe in them.

They need to be encouraged.

They need to have someone to turn to when their parents are not able or available.

In order for kids to believe in themselves someone has to believe in them first.

Mr. Rand, my high school print shop instructor, was there to mentor me when I needed the guidance. He believed in me... and made that emotional investment in me some 20 years ago.

So I ask...

How did you come to believe in yourself?

Who gave you the courage to believe in yourself?

Isn ’t it time for you to pass that gift to someone else?

If each of us can be a Mr. Rand for just one child...understand the important to reach to other people ’s children.... And play a stewardship role for all children...We can make a difference.

If each one of us in this room make a personal commitment to mentor at least one child not our own...

we can have a profound effect on at least 700 kids in the world...and that ’s a great start.

Encourage others to do the same and soon we will have a movement to solve this problem that has stymied us for decades.

Back twelve months ago. I didn ’t see this as a problem I needed to address. I didn ’t have the expertise. Well, again I was wrong.

Just as this (the topic of children) was a design problem for me, I hope some of you will see this as a management problem, an HR problem, a marketing problem.

What is it going to take for you to give up time and be available?

Is it going to take another Columbine for us to take the next step? I hope not.

If not now, then when?

If not us, then who?

copyright 2002, 2003, clement mok. all rights reserved.| site by zaudhaus