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Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Blast from the Recent Past Inspires Some Thought

I love seeing students from my past, though you always brace yourself for the possibility of less than rosy news. I answered the phone the other day and was delighted to hear from a student who was never on my caseload but who came to me frequently for academic and emotional support. In speaking with her mother on the phone, I realized the difficulties in this student’s life didn’t end with her. All around, it was a little sad, but I enjoyed her eagerness to get work done in my presence.

I hesitated for a second after hearing her remind me who she was, then asked the dreaded question:

“So, what have you been up to? And how old are you now?”

“I’m 18… I went to this other school for a while but then I got into some trouble…”

Oh oh. She’s going to say she’s pregnant, she’s going to say she’s pregnant…

“I got into a fight with another girl…” she continued.

Phew. Thank God.

“…And I’m pregnant.” God damn it. Oh well, at least she’s 18 and not 13 like some of the ones I’ve seen. It may not be the optimal age to make a human being, but she already sounds as though she may have compensated for previous childishness with a new sense of maturity and responsibility. Maybe.

“Oh, Student...” I wasn’t going to congratulate her, but neither was I going to say anything she’d probably already heard from her mother. “Are you still with the father?”

“No… I don’t know. Not really.”

She had called to make sure I would be there because she was coming in to enroll in a program that will help her walk away with some sort of high school diploma. I was relieved. One good decision, at least.

So yet again, I embraced a student who was further along in her pregnancy than I was during my own. It’s an odd thought. I wondered if it would be appropriate to invite her out with her baby some day to try to add to her support system, maybe give her ideas of cool places she can take her kid or activities she can do for minimal cost but giving the kid an enriching learning experience.

That thought then branched off to thoughts that came across my mind while I was at the local children's museum. In listening to the way parents spoke to their kids there and the way their children responded, I thought "I'd never see these kids in the lower level classes I help out with." The classes I support include kids with and without disabilities who generally read at the third grade level up to the sixth grade level at the most. They usually have extremely limited experiences in life, have parents who can't or won't be in their lives because of either tyring desperately to make ends meet and so working multiple shifts, or else are not willing to be in their kids' lives for whatever horrific reason (drugs, mental illness, or they just simply abandon them).

Now, I'm not suggesting that all parents should make the time and the money to take their kids to the museum, but the kids who have the opportunities to go places like that suddenly have whole worlds open to them that is denied the other kids who usually end up in my classroom. There are cheaper experiences that they don't get either... My students had no idea you could rent movies for free from the library because none of them had bothered to step inside their neighborhood library ever before. That's free. The chance to have all these books and movies at your disposal to expand your horizons, completely free and they never knew. You'd hope there would be at least one adult who would have the time to take them there, give them the gift of experience and knowledge in the hopes of a better future. It can take a village to raise a child, if not one poor struggling single parent. And the library has so much more to offer than just books and movies, too... Other experiences that would expose these kids to social situations and activities I bet my students would find so alien but would benefit them tremendously.

I about fell off my chair a few years ago just because one of my students knew the name of Mt. Vesuvius and knew that it was responsible for what happened in Pompeii. Guess where he goes when he has the time? The library. And he had a reading and writing disability, so it wasn't that he had the best reading skills of all the kids I see. It was a dream to only have to tackle his actual disability and not his limited upbringing too. It made the battle a far easier one to take on.

We can't leave everything up to the teachers... There aren't enough hours in the day to teach a kid how to function alongside kids who may come from a neighborhood beyond their own (without beating the shit out of them from being from a different 'zone'), or to give them the kind of background knowledge that one kid acquired in the museum when his mother read to him about the skeletons of various types of animals. Be it a grandparent, church, mosque, synagogue, neighbor, auntie, or parent, I just wish someone would read more to these kids, take them places more, set higher expectations of behavior in environments unfamiliar to them and teach them HOW to behave appropriately... Because I really do believe it would make a huge impact on these kids and teach them there are avenues open to them beyond the ones their grandparents, parents, and other family members are stuck on because nothing in their lives change.

1 comment:

Abel Undercity said...

I am constantly amazed at how many people come into the bookmobile and ask me if I'm selling books, or if there's a limit on how many books they can take out. One person asked me if he could buy a book of stamps off of me. So often it seems to me that people have forgotten about libraries, and in my more cynical moments I think that if enough people forget, we'll simply be closed down by the bureaucrats who just see us as an expense in the county budget.