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.