early childhood education, social justice education, student learning

Understanding Issues Related to Children in Poverty

We’ve completed our third full week of classes and students in my ECE class are very engaged and beginning to find their voices. So far, they’ve gotten a look at poverty from a unique perspective as we work our way through “$2.00 a Day:  Living on Almost Nothing in America” by Kathryn J. Edin and Hl Luke Shaefer. The book is a really easy read (not too long, simple language, etc.) and also an extremely difficult read as it exposes truths that most of my students have been blind to. Our class discussions have been lively as they have expressed outrage and frustration with a system that is considerably worse than they ever imagined.

In addition to the book, I’ve had them watching the PBS special “The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation“.  The first segment frames the issue of how the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world has fallen to 26th out of 42 developed countries in child welfare rankings. Many of my students are shocked to discover that, not only do we not rank at the top of the list for child welfare – but we’re not anywhere close to the top.

Last week, students were paired off and charged with the task to investigate a specific issue related to child welfare in the US, report out on why the issue exists, statistical facts related to the issue, ways the government is addressing the issue, and contact information for local agencies which support our community in this area with a brief description of their services. I introduced them to “The State of America’s Children”  report on the Children’s Defense Fund website and let them start investigating their issue. When they reported their findings this week, I was so proud of what a thorough job they did of explaining their issue to the class, and I can see them beginning to think about their roles related to child welfare in the US.

Example of work from the students who were assigned the topic of policy related to education.
This work is from students who were assigned the topic of policy related to child hunger and nutrition.

One of the key things that I hope my students take away from this class is that we have a collective responsibility to address these issues as a nation. So many young adults in this country are disconnected from the political system – they don’t realize that what they do (or don’t do) has an impact whether they want it to or not.

Questions for Thought:

  • Why is it that we are the richest country in the world and yet 1 in 4 children are born into poverty?  
  • What would make the US one of the best places to raise children?
  • What does it mean when we say someone is living in poverty?  What safety nets are available to help children and families get out of poverty?
  • How do we ensure all families have access to affordable, high-quality early care and education?

Additional Information about Child Welfare:

academic success, academics, early childhood education, student learning

Making Meaning

I’m teaching an Early Childhood (ECE) class about diverse children, families and communities this semester.  The entire first half of the class focuses on children in peril and the implications for classroom practice.  Most of my students in this class are juniors and seniors and this is a required course for them.  They are all so committed to serving children and families and this is their first deep dive into some of the difficult issues they may encounter in their future careers.

Although the students in my class have already completed at least 2 years of college, I have found that most of them are so used to memorizing and regurgitating facts, that it takes some work to get them to start thinking about how they think, recognizing their biases, and helping them to develop their own ideas and informed opinions. To encourage this transformation, I have an activity I introduce the first day of class that we build upon throughout the semester. This activity is actually adapted from one I use with first-year students in our college transition course in the module about developing critical thinking skills.

On the first day of class, I explain that we will be discussing children and families living in peril and that I really want my students to think about how they are thinking about what we will be discussing. We then discuss aspects of learning and critical thinking skills. I introduce them to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Critical Thinking and we talk through the different levels so that they begin to recognize the difference between memorizing and applying information. At their tables, students discuss the differences between the different levels of critical thinking, where they think they are on the pyramid, and what this means for their futures in the field of early childhood education.

When I ask how many people take notes as they read, fewer than 1/2 raise their hands. I pass out a modified version of the Cornell Notes template and explain that I will be expecting them to take notes as they read while thinking about the relevance of what they are reading. We watch a brief video in class and I have them practice taking notes. They exchange notes with a partner and provide feedback. One or two students do a really good job providing great insights into how the information from the video relates to their college success and futures as ECE professionals. Because so many of the students struggled to provide meaningful insights (which is expected at this point), I pass out a “Bloom’s Cue Questions” worksheet a colleague shared with me a few years ago.

As class concludes, I assign the first reading of the semester with the hopes that through the use of these critical thinking tools and application of today’s lesson, my students will begin to take their critical thinking skills to the next level. If this happens, what they will experience in this class over the course of the semester will be transformational for them.