Thursday, August 29, 2013

"You can do a lot of extra things with extra money."

"You can do a lot of extra things with extra money."

I read that in this article from The Atlantic Cities late last night. Bill shared it and asked if it applied here. Yes, it does. "So what are we going to do about it?" he asked.

Before something is done about it, maybe we should understand the problem. It's complex, the causes of this achievement/experience/opportunity gap. Whatever you want to call it, the fact is that some groups of kids achieve more and perform better than others in school, and the differences seem to fall along race and class lines. I don't have all the answers about that.

As the article points out, you can do more things with more money. We see that play out here with the proliferation of classes and activities for youngsters, for Kumon reading lessons for three-year-olds and personal trainers for teenagers hoping to make varsity. Due to intense commercial-cultural forces that I don't understand, parents these days are taught, pressured, and messaged to spend, spend, and spend some more on their children to improve their intellect and skill in a variety of areas at younger and younger ages. So, those who can, do and those who can't, don't. Voila, experience gap.

The article also raises the issue of social networks for parents. It seems to imply that the wealthier parents were also able to parent their children better because of their social networks (playgroups and social circles built through all these activities). They were able to receive the benefits of the "village" effect, but those parents of lesser economic means were not connected in those ways, causing their parenting to suffer. (This part of the article made me scratch my head. Why did the writer not explore the impact of social networks on parenting more? It was just hanging there, dripping with class privilege and relief because the one African-American she interviewed said class was a bigger factor than race therefore taking Racism off the table for examination. It irked me.)

But if the problem with American Public Education is that some people have enough money to put their kids through all kinds of structured activities and gain them all kinds of experiences that may or may not improve their academic achievement, one way to fix that might be to increase experiential learning in schools. 

I happen to think, though, the way to close the achievement gap is to do it before kids enter kindergarten. It seems pretty clear to me that even here in our great county, public school systems are not set up to close the gap. In fact, many of their practices might perpetuate or even exacerbate that gap. So, we really ought to close the gap before it truly forms in a child's life.

That makes me think of the social network factor's effects on parenting and student achievement. If it's as big as the article hinted at, let's put resources towards building those networks in communities or with individuals who lack a "village". And if experiences really matter, then increase access to preschool. Increase opportunities for experiential learning in the crucial 0-3 age range. Those are how wealthier parents build their networks, anyway. Two birds, one stone.

Man, oh man, that article touched a nerve.

"So what are we going to do about it."

This issue of educational justice is why I advocate in our schools. My kids are going to be fine in life, but that doesn't mean I'll stand by silently when the system makes decisions or takes actions that perpetuate divisions between groups of people. I'll continue to keep my eye out for opportunities to help close these gaps, even if it's one child at a time.

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