Several recent articles, including “Lifelines for Poor Children” in The New York Times and “Can Smart Economics Turn Us Into Better Parents?” from The Atlantic, have taken a look at the role education and social programs play in the lives of low-income children. The authors raise good points about the consequences of the widening parenting gap in America, and the importance of investing in effective early childhood education.
Sometimes the response of readers to such articles can be where the real insights lie however, and that’s definitely true on this topic. The comments of two educators on The New York Times piece add an important and often overlooked dimension to the conversation.
ML from Princeton writes,
I work at a preschool for homeless children. Most are being raised by single mothers who gave birth as teenagers. Most have multiple siblings. Many of these children come to us bright and hopeful. At age two they are little different in their potential than my upper middle class children. Yes, they are language delayed, have poor social skills and many have chronic health problems. But these areas are all treatable at age two. By age five, when they leave us for public school, all hope is gone. They are wary, jaded and angry. They have experienced hunger, violence and insecurity. Their mothers have disappointed them year after year, bringing new men and new babies into their lives. We do our best to give them love and stability, hope and a positive sense of self, but it is never enough to overcome the lack of positive parenting.
I firmly believe that early childhood education TOGETHER WITH wrap around services for young mothers (parenting classes, GED programs,etc) could end the cycle of multigenerational poverty in one generation. These children have the potential, but we are failing them because it is easier to cast stones at their mothers than to accept our own responsibility for all children in our nation. Our little agency receives less than 30% of its funding from governmental sources. The myth that these families are receiving hefty welfare payments prevents adequate funding.
We will reap what we sow.
Honeybee from Dallas comments,
I teach in a low-income, urban school and school district.
Years of experience have shown me that there are 2 types of parents: effective, responsible parents regardless of income and ineffective, irresponsible parents regardless of income.
A child’s future is determined by who takes them home from the hospital immediately after birth; we in the schools have little power or influence over that fact.
The parents with the highest achieving kids do similar things: they ensure that the child has 9-10 hours of sleep a night, glasses when needed, enough calories and loving supervision. That’s it. It’s that easy. Early “academic” education is not needed.
The Perry Project probably succeeded so well because it taught the kids the behavior skills needed to succeed once they are in school–and those skills are exactly what the kids of ineffective, irresponsible parents are missing.
To break the poverty cycle, we need to constantly remind the mothers about the sleep needs of children AND we need to provide Perry-like programs to all children regardless of income.
Dependence on government assistance is a red flag that a mother probably needs intensive help, so we should start with those families first.
What are your thoughts on the best way for society to support struggling youngsters?