Urban kids have a lot going for them

In school settings, it is easy to lament the plight of the community we serve.  We may work with challenging populations that simply aren’t achieving at the pace set required by government standards.  Many suspect that children in urban areas live in homes that do not foster educational and economic success.

Let’s take another look.

Urban “problem”: The student’s parent is not educated.

A few things can come from this.  An undereducated parent might recognize and value education in a way that many of us take for granted.  No one can understand the value of education the way that someone who has been denied an education can.  This parent takes her child’s school work seriously.  Very seriously.

Another possibility is that the parent is poorly equipped to support the child’s learning.  So everything that child is bringing to school, every homework assignment or test that is studied for is being done 100% by the child.  Let’s be honest, in many communities the science fair is a competition between parents.  The projects look suspiciously professional.  A child without parental support worked for everything they have.   They deserve our respect and dedication.

Urban “problem”: The family doesn’t speak English at home.

How can we not recognize this as an asset?  Our English language learners are conversationally fluent in two languages!  Sure, their mastery of academic English is slower.  But they speak two languages!  Around the world this is a highly valued – even require skill.  According to Cerebrum,  “Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.”  Of course the most obvious advantage of being bilingual is being able to communicate with vastly more people in the US and around the world.

Urban “problem”: There are several families sharing a small apartment.

Prior to the 1950s, several generations of a family would live together in the same home.  Children grew up with mother, father, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  In addition to siblings, children often lived with cousins.  The children benefited from all of these people supporting and helping in the family.  Children also had to be considerate, helpful, and flexible.

As people immigrate to the US, they often share living quarters to save money.  Their children benefit from this situation.  The concept that every child should have his or her own room, a family room, and a living room is really quite new in the history of civilization.  It’s neither better nor worse than the home filled with people.

Urban “problem”: Children have a lack of supervision.

In an age of fear-mongering media reports, it is hard for some to imagine letting a child ride their bike around the neighborhood or walk home from school.  Yet in urban areas, there are many children who do just that.  Maybe the parents can’t pick them up from school.  Maybe no one is home to make sure they stay in after school.  But either way, these children are learning very important skills.  Real life survival skills.  They know how to navigate in traffic.  Their instincts for untrustworthy people are sharp.  Their sense of direction is well-developed.  These skills are being recognized as desirable after a few decades of decline.  So much so that there are “free-range” movements in wealthier, more suburban areas.  Urban kids have always been “free-range”.

Urban “problem”: Racial and ethnic tension

Generally speaking, urban environments have people from various backgrounds.  Sometimes there is conflict.  Certainly the topic of racism and discrimination is visible.  This is a gift.  Equality in a diverse community is not just an academic discussion.  People’s lives depend on it.  Prejudices and assumptions about cultures and people are constantly being challenged, simply by living together with people who are different.  Children who grow up in diverse communities get to see real people, not stereotypes.  They live together and may share their traditions and cultures.  Respect and understanding grows from familiarity openness.

Certainly there are plenty of problems that children in urban schools – and their teachers – face.  In spite of those difficulties, they also have alot to offer.  They deserve our praise and admiration for their assets and our support and dedication to help them overcome their challenges.

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Teachers and manufacturers are like apples and oranges

Supervisor: I need 20 cars this week – here’s some sheet metal.

Technician: Um, why are there 5 different kinds of metal? Supervisor: That’s what the supplier sent. Some is tin, some is steel, some is aluminum, some is a nickel alloy, and some is just from scrap metal.

Technician: Okay, so I will be making vehicles of different qualities for different uses, correct? Supervisor: No! They all have to be exactly the same.

Technician: How can I make a car of tin as strong as a car of steel? How can an steel vehicle be as fast as an aluminum one?

Supervisor: You’ll find a way.

(Technician scratches his head and gets to work. A shipment arrives – 4 loads of unrefined ore.)

Technician: What is that for? Supervisor: Those need to be turned into cars too.

Technician: What is the deadline for those?

Supervisor: Same as the rest. Get to work.

Technician: Gets back to work, finding pieces missing, parts that don’t match, and metal types that jam up the machine.

Technician: The vehicles you just added are taking up more of my time than the original products – I will have to work overtime or get an assistant.

Supervisor: You have to get them done in the same amount of time as you always had and you should be able to do this yourself. Oh, by the way, the evaluation committee is coming in next week. If you fail, corporate will reduce our budget.

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