Friday, July 11, 2008

summer reading~ Welfare Brat

as a way to procrastinate all of my grad school assignments (i'm taking 3 classes... i feel like i'm back in undergrad again) i've been re-reading some of my favorite books. going to the library or buying books would admit that i'm not being a productive student, but re-reading books that are already in my house... somehow that makes it ok...

One that i re-read almost every summer is Welfare Brat by Mary Childers. Every time I re-read it it strikes so close to home. Anyone who works with children from poverty should read Childers' account of growing up on welfare in the Bronx. In a narrative form Childers describes a childhood in poverty better than other fabulous poverty-books, A Framework For Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne and The Working Poor by David Shipler. I highly recommend both Payne and Shipler's books as well, but everything Childers writes reflects what Shipler and Payne describe, just using her personal narrative which paints such a clear picture.

Childers, who now has a phd, talks about how hard it was as a child to walk the line between fitting-in in her neighborhood and fitting-in with her GT classes, and her after-school jobs. She writes, "Years of practicing walking with books on my head so that I can impress adults with money have trained me to walk straight and stiff. It's maddening that a requirement in one environment is an offense in another. How will I develop character if the world requires me to be a chameleon?" This is something Ruby Payne describes in her book as the 'ability to switch between a former register and an informal register', something that children from poverty have a difficult time achieving. It is something we need to teach and be aware of to help our children be successful.

As she is determined to go to college so that she wont repeat the pattern of the women in her neighborhood her family rejects her and her desires. She talks about how her mom would convince her little brothers and sisters not to go off and leave the family like Mary, and then would praise them for their desires to stay home and skip school. Yet Mary also discusses how much her mom worked for their large family, and how she struggle balancing it all. Mary describes the balance between her love for her mother and her frustration for her drinking and the many men she brings home. It's such a reminder that the parents that frustrate us, who we know aren't making good choices, are making good choices at times we might not be able to see it. And they love their children, despite what we see in the classroom. Our ideas of what is important for children is just different from theirs. Having money in order to not be homeless may override helping with homework, or even changing your children into pajamas before putting them to bed.

I absolutely cannot do the book justice here, and I am just procrastinating from writing papers at the moment, but the book is a must-read for teachers working in an underprivileged population. It explains so much about behavior in school, where our children are coming from, and everything they are up against in their day-to-day lives. Some days it is no wonder that school seems like the least important aspect of their lives~ most likely survival, food, and knowing who will be in your house when you get home is all taking precedent over reading, math, and following the 'school rules'. Sometimes as teachers we academically know what their families are going through, but reading Childers books takes it from the academic level and turns it into a family you love, who you are rooting for yet are also frustrated with. Suddenly you can't believe the clueless teachers, until you realize that they are us.

what else can i say to keep myself from having to go finish my papers... ;)
stupid grad school...

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