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: