Tuesday, January 19, 2010

power of knowledge, value, and control

During my Friday morning book club one of my fifth grade kiddos noticed the packet of papers on my desk for my PhD applications.

"Did you get a scholarship?" she asked as she eyed my stack of daunting paperwork.

"Um, no... I'm applying for one. Why do you want to know about a scholarship?" I replied, confused at why on earth she was thinking about scholarships in 5th grade.

"'Cause we just got our report cards and I got good grades! So I told my mom I am going to go to college."

"Way to go!"

"yeah, but she said I have to get a scholarship 'cause college is expensive. So now I have to make sure I can get a scholarship. If you get one will you give it to me?"

I was floored by the fact that my friend was even thinking about college, and that the mention of the word scholarship sent her into a determined frenzy. This is a child who went on to tell me that on the same report card she also received an N in self-control...
I tried to take time to explain about the whole merit-based scholarship and that I just can't hand over my own scholarship (because, honestly, if I could I don't think I would anyway- I need that money!)

It's that kind of determination that will get our children farther. Not just the drive to succeed but the knowledge that they have that kind of control over their future. They don't have to be passive as though pass through school, but instead they play an important role in their own lives.

In The Elegance of a Hedgehog (and I think I may be the only person I know who loved that book) the main character, the building concierge for a French apartment building, describes school as a second birth, which taught her that she herself was a person- a soul with a name and importance. I love that scene- that coming from a poor family she suddenly understood her worth once she started school. We have the power to give that realization to our children.

I recently read Push, the novel Precious is based on, and I can't get it out of my head. It comes down to the same idea- that once a child is aware of her own importance and value she is able to take control of her own life and play a role in her future.

I think that idea sums up why I teach- to give children that power in their own lives- to help them realize that they are someone valued, someone of importance. Help them to understand that they are important enough to work hard- that they are in control of their future.


Alison said...

Those baby steps are so important for all students, not just those with special needs! This is a good time of year to remind ourselves to measure students' progress in those small increments.

So I want to talk to you more about how to empower kids to take more ownership in their education and about how to address the idea of college when no one in the students' family has gone... this came up in my class recently. I heard an interesting piece on NPR about how the Hispanic College Fund was encouraging teenagers to go to college (assuming their school has prepared them!) and instead of sending the message to their family that their two or three hourly jobs aren't providing a good enough lifestyle, they say that going to college will allow them to give back to their community more as a professional, doctor, lawyer, etc. Interesting angle but I'm still not sure how to address it respectfully with seven year olds and their families.

Sneaker Teacher said...

I just read Push too over Christmas! What an intense story. It was hard for me to read at times because I can't even imagine having a life like that, yet I though it was really valuable to get that perspective as a teacher because surely kids who I teach will come from circumstances like that.

VagabondTeacher said...

I subbed at a first grade in a school whose motto was "XYZ is College Bound!" They chanted it three times each morning after the pledge.

I'm not against starting the college talk early, but I don't think primary kids have any concept of what college is. This particular class was so out of control that I asked them how they were going to find college because they couldn't listen to anyone long enough to know how to find it.

organized chaos said...

I always try to talk to the kids as though "of course you'll go to college". I don't make a big deal out if it, I just mention it as though it's an unquestioned fact in their lives. I want their little 6 year old brains to just assume they'll go to college and not question it.
I think encouraging college is different than talking about what they'll be when they grow up. You can tell them they will go to college without making any comment on what their parents do. In fact, if they want to go to college and then follow in their parents' footsteps of being a day laborer that is ok. You're right- I don't think, especially at 6 years old, we want to devalue what their parents do. But we can just build in an assumption that college is the next step. I don't think they necessarily understand that college is seen as this magical gateway so I don't even know if they connect their family's job to a lack of college.
I'm talking in circles- Alison, we should def. talk.

Alison said...

Footnote: today we were talking about why MLK Jr is Dr MLK Jr and in trying to explain a PhD in 20 seconds I used the word "scholar" to which the class responded enthusiastically "scholarship!" So we took a 5 minute detour to explain what a scholarship is (I have a few friends who ask a LOT of questions about new words and I can't help but indulge them with as much context as possible). They all seemed to know that a scholarship meant money but most hadn't connected that the money was to pay their school tuition, or that school cost anything. I would think that is the biggest obstacle about college (although I might argue the real problem is being under prepared to succeed once you are there - which I saw plenty of in my Ivy League office job) but it was so interesting that they already know they need a scholarship to go to college.... This conversation shall be continued when we can sit down over a latte or glass of adult juice.