Thursday, May 7, 2015

My 7-Year Old Is a Privileged Kid with A Nook and I'm Not Happy About It

My 7-year old son has been living a pretty privileged state of existence for the duration of his short life.  Please allow me to offer a small demonstration via America's favorite e-reader: the Nook.  Yes, indeed, this week my husband (the tech geek) upgraded, and therefore passed on his formerly prized e-reader to our son, fully loaded with all 53 issues of "The Magic Tree House" series.  That's right, unlimited e-books on demand, at the fingertips of someone who can barely wipe his own butt.  And you know what came before the Nook?  Saturday morning family strolls to the public library where he could pick any book he wanted, and where the trip usually ended with a pit stop at the ice-cream or fudge shop.  Books = family time + ice-cream.  How's that for some positive reinforcement?  And before that, you ask?  When he just started walking, we regularly brought our son to play with his favorite wooden train table....which happened to be situated perfectly in the middle of the children's section of Barnes and Noble.  And before this child was even born, he had a bookcase filled with books.  I'm talking at least 50 books before he could even see past 15 inches, people.

So is it any surprise that I have a 2nd grader who reads at the 4th grade level, who was put in the advanced reading group, has already been taught how to do research and write book reports, and who has fallen asleep with his Nook on his chest every night this week?  Am I proud of my kiddo?  Of course I am, he's my only son.  But barring any disabilities, given the gentle subtle and not-so-subtle nudging we've been doing for the past 7 years, does my kid really have any excuse NOT to be a strong reader?

While I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've been able to offer my son with our two-parent, two-income, two-car garage lifestyle, I can't help but think of the 50-70% of his peers who qualify for free or reduced lunches at his cafeteria.  I imagine the single parent who works evenings and weekends and has never been able to take her child to the public library when it's open.  I imagine the family living below the poverty line who has never been able to step foot into Barnes and Noble, much less dream of owning a Nook.  I imagine children who have parents that struggle with addiction, or children who are abused and neglected, that have never experienced a "family stroll" to the library, ice-cream parlor, or anywhere else for that matter.  Some say that when you become a mother, you become a mother to all the children of the world.  Maybe that's why I woke up in a cold sweat last week when imagining some of my son's peers being left behind.  Kids already labeled as "at-risk" being unintentionally denied leadership and growth opportunities while my son, who is likely to succeed no matter what, gets labeled as "high-achieving", and is consequently exposed to even more leadership and development opportunities.

By the end of fourth grade, African American, Latino, and poor students of all races are two years behind behind their wealthier, predominantly white peers in reading and math. By eighth grade, they have slipped three years behind, and by twelfth grade, four years behind. 

African American students are three times more likely than white students to be placed in special education programs, and are half as likely to be in gifted programs in elementary and secondary schools.   

By age three, children of professionals have vocabularies that are nearly 50 percent greater than those of working class children, and twice as large as those of children whose families receiving public assistance. 

* The Academic Achievement Gap, Teacher's College, Columbia University    

My son's school employs highly competent and compassionate educators who are doing the very best they can with their limited resources, time, and with the state-mandated requirements imposed upon them.  So what's a privileged mom of a privileged child to do?  Become part of the solution, of course.  Take responsibility for our privilege and do our part to level the playing field.  Like most parents who run for school board - or in my case, site-based decision making council (a Kentucky Department of Education statutory requirement), I want to advocate for educational access and academic success for all children, especially the ones that fall through the cracks.  I believe with all my heart that this is everyone's collective responsibility.  My dream (and my guess is that it's yours as well) is that when my son graduates 10 years from now, he and his peers will no longer be carrying our labels with them.  That each and every one of them will feel valued, smart, empowered, and equipped to go out and contribute to the world, regardless of whether or not their parents ever bought them a Nook.

My Top Three Priority Areas If Elected to the School-based Decision Making Council:

1.  Commit to culturally responsive teaching, equity, and inclusion of all students in order to ensure equal access to learning and participation.

2.  Explore and embrace different ways students are motivated in order to accommodate and celebrate different learning styles, communication styles, and cultural perspectives.  Shift from models of rewards and external incentives to communication, respect, and intrinsic motivation.

3.  Implement research-based prevention education that addresses bullying, dating violence, sexual violence, and stalking in order to eliminate barriers to student success.

If you happen to live in Berea, Kentucky, won't you support me, or consider advocating for these issues yourself?  If you live anywhere else in the world, won't you do whatever it takes to ensure that every single child has a chance to succeed without our labels? You know how the saying goes.... "It takes a village."  And news flash y'all:  We ARE the village.