English author Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol” tells the story of an elderly miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge, visited by three apparitions, Past, Present and Future, to help the skinflint remember the meaning of the holiday and to mend his greedy ways. The Ghost of Christmas Present arrived second in the form of a robust and jolly character showing Scrooge the joy to be discovered outside his present-day window. Yet beneath the specter’s flowing robe, and unseen by the dancing and bounty inure to the festivities, peered the countenances of two children, who the spirit called by the names Ignorance and Want. Scrooge was admonished to remember them in spite of his own self-perceived abundance.
Those of us who are or have been parents, or those who are or have been a child, understand that the good author was not likely referring to “want” in the modern sense. More probably, it was intended to mean need. We humans may want chocolate cake for every meal or constant attention directed our way – but we need, and must have, some proper nourishment for our bodies and love for our souls. Absent an adequate serving of either and we suffer the pernicious effects of starvation. Even more, Dickens called out the hunger brought by ignorance. Failure to read, understand or participate in the world around us brings its own sort of malnourishment and incumbent harm.
With want, we can count the calories and have come to understand the attention due a child. But what of ignorance? Reading, writing and arithmetic are the big three. And civics, history and skills follow closely behind. Kids make sense, but what, if anything, is our burden to carry the ignorance and want of full-grown adults? If they choose blissful witlessness, what is our duty to them?