Saturday, February 18, 2012

You Have To Be Willing To Take The Long View

Recently I got into a disagreement with a friend on Facebook when I said that one in five children in the United States suffered from food insecurity. She refused to believe that assertion, even when I supported it with reliable research. We have a safety net, she said, and no one falls through it; my church alone provides food items, she said. Still, children go to bed every night not knowing where their next meal is coming from, and it is especially difficult during summer breaks from school, I argued. Just because you can't see it around you doesn't mean it does not exist.

What if I told you that some children have never been in a car? Or a parking garage? Or that middle-class children come to school having heard 35 million more words than a child living in poverty, a staggering inequality that results in lower reading levels achieved much later for low-SES kids?

Crazy talk, and yet it is true and happening in our country. The response from one school has been shockingly simple: experiences. Take kids to lots of different places, expose them to things they would not see in their daily life (the zoo, the parking garage, a museum) and have them write and reflect on what they see.

But, one might argue, I see these supposedly "poor" kids with brand-new shoes and iPhones; why don't their parents educate them? That is a knee-jerk response to the issue; Ruby Payne's groundbreaking work on poverty has shown that parents with a lower socioeconomic status (SES) demonstrate love through things (shoes, clothes and electronics), while parents with a higher SES demonstrate love through expereinces (classes, trips and such). This results in a kid with nice shoes and no understanding of how a parking meter works, a child who is handicapped before the real work of school even begins.

So if adding experiences works for the (shrinking) middle class, it stands to reason that it would work for kids in poverty. If you can show a student another option, broaden their horizons while teaching them something new (and piquing their interest in learning further or studying something related), why would you stay in the classroom?

Perhaps this quote is the best way to summarize why more schools do not recognize and address this uneven distribution of life's most basic experiences:

Daniel Feigelson heads the network of 30 schools that P.S. 142 belongs to. He said that he wished more principals would adopt the program but that they were fearful. “There is so much pressure systematically to do well on the tests, and this may not boost scores right away,” he said. “To do this you’d have to be willing to take the long view.”

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