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Obviously, the important event of the next few days is the selection of the next president of the United States. And among the debates over abortion, Social Security and the irresponsible spending both candidates advocate rather than paying off the national debt lies a central concern for most Americans: education. While we concern ourselves with the quality of instruction in the classroom, few of us ever consider the amount of learning and growth that occurs off school grounds. From 7:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., most kids are confined in the boundaries of a school, but what happens when the closing bell rings? The U.S. Census Bureau released statistics on Tuesday that might surprise those who assume every child is coming home to June Cleaver and setting the table while waiting for Ward to come home. Those statistics? More than two million children under the age of 12 are left home alone before or after school. Furthermore, the seven million 5-to-14-year-olds of working parents are left home alone for an average of six hours per week. Ah, yes, the plight of latchkey kids. What seems like an atrocity developing from dual-income households is nothing of the sort. As an alumnus of the latchkey society, I ask that the rest of the world -- U.S. Census Bureau and media reporting this "scare" included -- to just take a breather. As long as I can remember, I was coming home to an empty house or one with only my older sister present. Both parents were out at work until 5:00. Did I discover the wonders of juvenile delinquency in the absence of parental supervision? To the contrary -- I believe the lessons I learned were anything but deviant. Coming home to an empty house doesn't mean you sit on the couch and cry about the fact that you already counted all the dimples in the ceiling tiles last month. It means you get up off your keister and make your hungry tummy something to eat and start to do your homework. (Granted, I did most of that work in front of the television -- 3-2-1 Contact simply cannot be denied.) Why polish off that homework before your parents get home? So you don't have to do it while they're there -- absence likely makes the heart grow fonder, but it also makes for an efficient worker who knows the value of family time. Coming home to an empty house doesn't mean you learn to fool around and act irresponsibly. What you do learn -- and rather quickly -- is how cold it gets in the winter when you forget your keys and you're locked out of the house until Mom or Dad gets home. In short, you learn responsibility in the most vivid of ways; if you don't, you usually end up with frostbitten toes. Coming home to an empty house doesn't mean you learn that "family" is a four-letter word. You learn that your parents love you in a superlative way -- to the extent that they will give up that which they cherish most (time spent with their children) so that you can be afforded the financial freedoms of possibly attending an Ivy League school. Not all latchkey kids end up in Ivy League institutions. Not all of them become bastions of responsible behavior. Not all of them do their homework in a timely manner, although all of them do learn the art of subsistence cooking. So please, don't pity me for not having adult supervision for 10 hours a week while I was an impressionable youth. I don't claim to have had the ideal childhood, but that's because I think no one has ever had an ideal childhood. And I don't think anyone else has the right to preach their lifestyle choices to others who have different constraints on their time and finances. What I had worked for me -- and it worked pretty damn well. So let's keep our eyes on improving the time our kids spend in school and leave the parental choices to those best qualified to make them: the parents themselves.

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