His tutor didn’t show up on Thursday, called and said that he was stuck in a meeting. So my third grade friend and I sat down in the computer lab/ tutoring office and pulled out a packet on Tall Tales. We reviewed “Paul Bunyan” which he had read on Tuesday with his tutor, then pulled out a few pages about “John Henry.”
We read through the story, looked for the elements of a Tall Tale in the story of John Henry, and created a chart of “Probably Real” and “Probably Make-Believe.” We looked up the definition of “exaggerated” and “triumph.”
He’s in tutoring because the school district says that he isn’t at grade level, as an African American son of a single mom, living in a low income neighborhood in a large urban area, the expectation too often is, “of course he’s low”.
But I think we can have higher expectations of our kids. I think that we can set expectations high and support kids as they move towards those goals. We can support literacy programs with high standards, we can pray for our teachers and schools, we can advocate for better education policy. We can volunteer or donate or do what we can to help all kids succeed.
Just a three weeks ago, I sat down to work with a kindergarten girl who still had not learned the idea of one-to-one correspondence between spoken and printed words. If I asked her to point to each word as I read it, even reading slowly with long pauses before each word, she was completely at a loss. If I asked her to show me, in a book, one word (moving sheets of paper to block off the other words, she had no idea how to do it. When I asked her to show me the first letter or last letter of a word she showed me a full sentence.
Through work with her teachers at school and her volunteer tutors at PAYFS this week she was able to complete each task. It’s not that kids can’t learn, it’s just that we need to teach them and expect there to be growth.
Back to my third grade friend. While he finished his work on John Henry, I remembered that I had Bruce Springsteen singing “John Henry” in the style of Pete Seeger on my phone. “Hey would you like to hear the “John Henry” song?” I asked.
I didn’t expect for him to like it. My expectations for a 3rd grade African American boy are that he won’t like banjo and fiddle music. I played the whole song through, he was tapping his toes, he was nodding his head. He went to play a game with another 3rd grader, an African American girl. “Katie, play the John Henry song again please.”
I played the song three times before we left. My expectations were wrong. He loved the banjo and fiddle music. He loved the clapping and shouting and stomping.
Let our expectations about urban kids and academic achievement be just as wrong as our expectations of the same kids and Pete Seeger songs. – AMEN-
I am in the middle of reading Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can–and Should–Do to Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids by Nicole Baker Fulgham – Nicole spoke at CCDA this fall and I pre-ordered her book and the DVD of her talk while I was sitting in the ballroom listening to her. It just came last week. Nicole is the founder of The Expectations Project – a 501c3which partners with faith-motivated individuals, leaders, congregations and organizations to develop local and national campaigns that help enact transformational change for low-income public schools.
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