There are people with plenty. There are others with far from plenty. The poor are always at the top of mind at the Urban Engagement Book Club (sponsored by CitySquare). Today, I am presenting my synopsis of Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It by Eric Jensen for this very different book discussion/community conversation gathering.
The book is good. It is focused on the school environment — but it provides a good reminder of the overall impact of poverty on people and the larger society. Here are two excerpts that summarize the essence of the book:
35 percent of poor families experienced six or more risk factors (such as divorce, sickness, eviction); only 2 percent experienced no risk factors. In contrast, only 5 percent of well-off families experienced six or more risk factors, and 10 percent experienced none. The aggregate of risk factors makes everyday living a struggle; they are multifaceted and interwoven, building on and playing off one another with a devastating synergistic effect. In other words one problem created by poverty begets another, which in turn contributes to another, leading to a seemingly endless cascade of deleterious consequences.
It’s safe to say that poverty and its attendant risk factors are damaging to the physical, socioemotional, and cognitive well-being of children and their families.
Moving toward Solution:
The worse off kids are, the greater the potential gain. If students come from good home environments, not much more than good teaching is necessary. But if students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, enrichment can have a dramatic impact on learning. And in these cases, an enrichment mind-set is crucial: every staff member must be on board and fully believe that every kid can succeed.
You’ll know when everyone at your school is on board. You’ll see it in the hallways, hear it in the classrooms, and feel it from the kids. You’ll notice that students enjoy their classes and overall school experience and are hopeful about the future; that teachers share information and strategies with colleagues and discuss issues constructively; that the staff lounge area airs more success stories than complaints; and that the teachers give affirmations and support to kids all day.
The first prerequisite for change is your belief in it – and your willingness to change yourself first. We can help kids rise above their predicted path of struggle if we see them as possibilities, not as problems… Students brains don’t change from more of the same. We must believe that change is possible; understand that the brain is malleable and will adapt to environmental input; and be willing to change that input.
We are all busy people. But I hope we will make some time in our schedule to think about those with the greatest needs. What we read, what we think about, what we pay attention to… all of this can lead us to do good things, better things, with our time and our resources.
And the need is so very great.
This past Friday, I preseented a synopsis of the wonderful book the Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. I have a few comments on the book, and a reflection on the morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis.
First, the book. It is a really good read! This book is a “feel good” book, that challenges one deeply. You feel good because Robinson tells story after story of a person who had been overlooked, unfulfilled, a little “lost,” until he or she found just the right path. The stories were numerous: Richard Branson, Paul McCartney (Robinson is British, and probably a little partial to other Brits), the billiards great Ewa Lawrence, and many others. In many cases, our “normal” educational system had failed to see and feed a student’s potential. In fact, far too often, potential had been practically squashed. The book is challenging because it calls into questions our basic assumptions about just what we should be “teaching” in our schools. He argues passionately for a new understanding regarding what is truly important (with “creativity” at the top of his list). It is a provocative and useful set of questions to ponder. By the way, you can watch the video of his terrific presentation from the TED conference, Do Schools Kill Creativity? at the TED video site here.
Now, here is my favorite line in the book. Elvis Presley was rejected for his school’s glee club. Here is what Robinson wrote: “they said his voice would ruin their sound… We all know the tremendous heights the glee club scaled once they managed to keep Elvis out.” This man is a witty writer!
Second, the event. We are in our 12th year of the First Friday Book Synopsis. Karl Krayer and I have presented synopses of well over 250 books in the 11+ years we have been meeting. On May 1, we had our largest number of participants ever — 128 people. I asked one person why he thought it had grown to such a number, and he said: “everyone is looking for a job.” That may be true, and networking is certainly a critical factor — never more so than in this challenging time in our economy.
But another participant said this (this is a slight paraphrase — I did not record her comments): “I’m not usually a morning person. But I come to this, and I really feel like I learn important information from two good books. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I attend.” I think that may be a key part of the secret of this event. It really does provide a lot of really helpful and useful material in a very short, compact time frame. Yes, people feel like they have accomplished something important by attending the First Friday Book Synopsis.
So – to all who make this a success, thank you. I hope we provide you with that important sense of accomplishment.