I’m sure that we are all familiar with the parable about a man’s hunger and self-reliance. Loosely paraphrased, it says that give someone a fish and it’s food for one day, but teach someone to fish, it’s food for life.
That can take on many different meanings, but once again, very loosely interpreted, for the youth out there living in all the many hoods across the country, I take a different turn. So many children never get to see the ‘other’ side of life until it is almost too late in life to make a measurable difference in their chosen pathways to adulthood. The ‘fresh Air Fund’ is/was always am opportunity for a chosen few inner-city children to see and experience life from a new vantage point. If living in the city, where there are big buildings, lots of city noise, busy and crowded streets, and so forth. People hanging out, dropping out, parents cutting out, or circumstances that take loved ones away, little incentive for educational attainment when survival mode is always on autopilot.
Fresh air, new surroundings, nature-scapes and sounds, new people, mindsets, lifestyles, and 9 times out of 10, there is a college degree somewhere among the host family. That gives them a chance to gain a new perspective, another chance to dream, gaze upon the stars and with the serene quiet after dark….they get to hear themselves think. City sounds are all around us, all day every day. My mother used to say, in response to the higher sound decibels: “Turn that music down. I need some quiet; I can’t hear myself think!” I get it!
For lots of children bombarded with voices in their own head, neighbor’s music, city buses or elevated trains, sirens from police, fire, or medical emergency vehicles, etc… Not to mention the sounds of his peers, , and the peer pressure….all of which can become terrible distractions. When the children are in school, 5days each week, they are told about people, places, concepts, equations, called upon to adopt, adapt and communicate within certain proscribed parameters.
The key to teaching and learning for some, albeit, not all, but some students whose repertoire and reference points are limited at best, telling them about this new way of thinking, acting, feeling, responding and reacting is foreign. We shouldn’t ever judge a child’s intelligence, aptitude, or comprehension when there’s nothing tangible from which to develop deeper practical application. It’s like the KWL chart,and we begin from there.
Now, back to the fish! Children come to school with the expectation that they pay attention, engage, behave and learn. Each of these expectations we hold for him, are OUR expectations, …BUT only reasonable if the children are equipped with the deeper understanding to meet them. Through practical lived experiences, simulated experiences, demonstration, and sufficient opportunities to practice utilizing new skills, ways of thinking, acting, behaving, relating to others, and learning….first. So, just as adults learning a new skill, practice and repetition and opportunities where situations that illustrate the concept or skill being encouraged or developed.
So, telling a child about this wonderful world outside of his/her familiar means much less, will be very difficult to envision themselves as becoming a part of, experiencing, working or belonging. What solidifies the encouragement of that child to internalize a belief, adopt a new behavior to increase motivation, is when you show him/her what it looks like, how it feels or how it works.
I’m saying a lot right now, but the central thought remains relevant throughout every detour. A child from the ‘ghetto’ will not typically believe you when you tell him that it is a real possibility that they may live a life outside of their community if they learn, pay attention or behave properly. What makes this more tangible for them is when they see, smell and feel that unfamiliar world. If you expect a certain behavior that is contrary to the behavior the child exhibits, then demonstrate that which you wish to see. Tell them what you expect, and show why, where and how it works-cause and effect. Then, make it relevant to them. Allow them to participate-within a ‘before and after’ context….enough times for deeper meaning and understanding to emerge.
Then, ask them to reflect on their experience, ask them to describe or express the associated feelings see cause and effect. Maybe then they will get it, and this will last for a lifetime. Also, you will have offered a child a glimpse into a different reality, a different life, way of thinking, responding, behaving, feeling, or maybe even doing class or homework. Be the changes that you wish to see and that you wish children to see.
What happened to good old-fashioned field trips? firemen, doctors, or police officers coming to speak to classrooms filled with students? We begin early enough, maybe these demonstrations of life and learning may help youngsters see themselves with a brighter future life with longevity and continuous learning.