Conditioned to Dislike the Poor

Living in a state of absolute poverty equates to weakness, laziness, and criminal behavior. This is the subliminal message taught to all Americans regardless of age, religious  association, and location.  Lamentably, all of us at any given point in our lives subconsciously agree with this socially constructed message. It is activated in a guiltless and straightforward matter.

Take for example a panhandler begging for money on a busy street. Most of us observing this act would wonder why this person is not capable of getting a job like everyone else in the country. Then in a split second, our thinking switches from wonderment to malicious intent.  A picture of a dead-beat and criminal manifests in our brain. This image gives us permission to see the panhandler as a swindler. Before long, it is presumed that this person is running a scam to get our hard earn money.

Instantaneously, a feeling of alienation for this individual’s actions, appearance, and existence seizes our mind. This entire exchange may have taken a matter of seconds, but in that time; we subconsciously remember the subliminal message against poverty and re-construct our contempt for the poor.  This is done all the time with citizens that lack access to sanitation, clean clothing, healthcare, education, and a habitable shelter.

As a nation, we are malevolent towards the impoverished. Even though, the Great Recession propelled nearly 10 million people into destitution.  Alas, they too will have to learn how to climb out of poverty by their own exertions because no one will show benevolence for their circumstance either.

Although it has been said many times and in many ways, the rhetoric is usually the same:

People in poverty need to feel ashamed of their inability to improve their circumstances. While, the economically prosperous individual should feel contempt for the poor because they cannot bootstrap and rise-up from their own individual laziness.

And the message continues…

Reading by Third Grade is Crucial

It is imperative that all children know how to read  by the end of third grade. This is a crucial developmental milestone for all kids.  A student’s reading level determines his or her ability to obtain new knowledge and retain prior knowledge. It is also predicts how well they will function academically in the upper grades.

From kindergarten to third-grade, most children are learning how to read. They are discovering how individual letters sound and how to combine letter- sounds together to form a particular word. They are studying the meaning of individual words, and how these words function within a sentence or a paragraph to communicate information.

Once a child enter fourth grade, it is assumed that s/he is capable of reading and decoding words. Therefore, teachers no longer instruct students in the process of how to read. Instead, reading instruction -from fourth grade to high school – will now focus on comprehension and critical analysis.

For learners, who have not reached proficiency by the end of third grade, will now find themselves in a predicament. These children will be expected to read at the same rate as their proficient peers. A majority of them will struggle to comprehend and retain information from their text books. Most will want to stop or will cease trying to learn.

The act of reading for them no longer make sense; it is incomprehensible. The older they get, the more difficult it is for them to catch-up and develop the reading skills they need in the upper grades.

This is unfortunate because most reading problems can be corrected if caught early. If a learner is not able to decode or to recognize words or parts of words by the end of first grade, s/he ought to be place in a reading intervention program. Reading programs explicitly instruct students in phoneme awareness, phonics, spelling, and reading comprehension skills.

Many of these programs can  correct a kid’s reading deficits, but early identification is the key. It is important that parents and teachers get their students help if they suspect a problem.

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Talking Politics in the Classroom 

Discussing politics or controversial social issues with students can be challenging. Educators want to engage students in these “hot button” topics but can find themselves walking a fine line, particularly when their school system opposes these types of conversations in the classroom.

A common fear among school districts is that their teaching staff can not be nonpartisan, especially if they are passionate about a specific issue. Or, they may “unintentionally” influence their students’ point of view, which inadvertently countermand their parent’s political or social ideology.  As a result, schools have restricted or banned “political talks” in the classroom.

This is an unfortunate policy move.

Talking politics in the classroom ought to be encouraged. The classroom is an ideal environment for students to unpack political or social issues. Political discussions teach kids the process of deliberation. Students learn how to analyze competing viewpoints, to evaluate facts, and  to develop their own opinion. It is a great way to get young people involve in our political system.

I believe, educators know how to be impartial and politically neutral in their classrooms. As learning professionals, teachers are trained to design and delivery content without advocating for a particular point of view. They know it’s their job to model the process of deliberation and to help students investigate all sides of an issue. As such, their political discussions genuinely encourage students to form and support their own views and to respect their peers’ political stance, even though; it may contradict their own convictions.

In spite of this, school districts are still hesitant to allow teachers to engage in political discussions with their students. In today’s highly polarized society, school districts believe these types of conversations are just too risky.

Which is too bad. This is just another lost opportunity to teach young people how to become active members of our participatory democracy.

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Working With Truants

Truancy is a huge problem. Most children start skipping school in middle school or in their ninth grade year in high school. Once a kid establishes this pattern of behavior it is difficult for he or she to return to school and comply with attendance rules. Yet, many truants are willing to give school another shot.

However,…

It is a matter of finding an educational program that works for their individual needs. A number of these kids desire an educational experience that does not follow a traditional track. One educational option that seems to work best with truants is blended learning. This instructional approach allows students to work at their own pace and limit their time on a school campus. With this approach, students are given sets of online learning materials and tasks to complete during the week.  Then, they come together in a small group once or twice a week to review, discuss, and put into practice what they’ve done. Many truants use blended learning as a way to accelerate their learning time and graduate early from high school.

Along with blended learning, it is important that truants receive counseling services. A counselor can help students deal with their underlying issues associated with their  truancy. Once a child’s problem has been identified, the school staff can design an educational program that meets his or her needs.

Getting truants to stay in school and finish their education is pivotal to their future. Truants that do not complete high school are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors (some of which can land them in the juvenile justice system), develop negative social behaviors, and personal habits making it difficult for them to land a job.  Thus, it’s crucial for counselors and school staff  to identify and seek out these students before it is too late.

However, working with this group of kids is never easy. A majority of these students have a negative attitude towards education. Getting to them to “try” different educational approaches and trusting in the educational system can be challenging. It takes most kids a full year to fully trust their school staff and to buy-in to most truancy intervention strategies. There is no guarantee that any one program or strategy will work with this group of kids. Educators are encouraged to try many different strategies and to be patience.

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