If it Takes a Village to Raise a Child…

If ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ then by my count most of the village appears to be asleep on the job!

In the city of Baltimore kids were given the CAT (Calfornia Achievement Test) not only in June at the end of the school year but also in September just after the summer vacation had ended. The results proved illuminating: sociologist Karl Alexander from the John Hopkins University found that low-income kids outperformed their wealthier peers in progress made from September to June year on year. In other words teachers were doing a spectacular job with these children. However when he looked at the difference between test results in June and the following September he found that over the course of the summer the low-income kids had a rate of attrition not found in the wealthier students whose tests scores actually improved over the summer vacation. By the end of the first 5 years of schooling this summer attrition had led to an ’achievement gap’ of over 25% between the rich and the poor. In other words poor kids learnt nothing when they weren't actually in school.

So what if we could keep poor kids in school longer, would that solve the problem? Yes, and that is exactly what KIPP schools did and proved. However they also found that this system worked only up to a point that point being college level studies. Once KIPP students went to university, it appeared that working harder and longer no longer guaranteed success a 100% of the time: only 33% of all KIPP students entering tertiary education completed their 4 year course of studies. What Levin, one of the KIPP founders, discovered about the students that stayed the course was that although they had not necessarily been the most successful academically at KIPP they did possess certain character traits that made all the difference: persistence, optimism and social intelligence. In particular they were very skilled at getting professors to give them the extra help they needed when they needed it.

Annette Lareau, a sociologist, calls this particular skills set practical intelligence. It allows you to read social situations quickly and accurately and act in way that gives you what you want. It is a skill, she says, that is taught by the parents of the well-to-do children to their offspring. It is part of what she calls the ‘concerted cultivation’ middle class parents bestow on their children, one that encourages them to question, interact confidently with adults and speak up for themselves when necessary. According to Lareau, middle class parents “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills” and see it as their job to “manage their child’s education.” This promotes a sense of ‘entitlement’ in these children not often found in those of low-income families, whose parents see it as the job of the teacher to manage their child’s education, not theirs. And it is this attitude of “entitlement” that virtually guarantees these children success in today’s world.

Which brings us back full circle to the question of just who in the village is not pulling their weight when it comes to question of raising the children?

Nobody in their right mind becomes a teacher to make money and yes, we have our share of shirkers as do all professions, professions where annual salaries and bonuses can equal the entire life savings of a teacher; but for the most part teachers work tirelessly to provide their students with the best education they can…as well as cover for absent staff when a supply teacher can’t be found, perform playground duty, offer an array of extra-curricular activities,'volunteer' to help with the school play, the school fair, the school ‘whatever', meet with parents formally at parents evenings (if they bother to show up) and informally when necessary, write recommendations, reports, invigilate and mark exams, mark homework, respond to students’ emails, oh and yes prepare lessons that will engage the students and teach them to think to learn and ultimately learn to think. Teachers are run ragged – let’s not put this one on them too. No it’s not teachers that are failing the students it's the rest of the village – the parents and the wider community. It's time that the village elders wake up to this fact and act accordingly.