Rags to Riches- What Holds Some Back?

I have been in a lovely bookgroup for several months now, where I have enjoyed reading and discussing a variety of books I may not have otherwise read.  Welfare Brat, written by Mary Childers was one that lead to discussion about poverty and the questions around why some, like Mary, are able to climb out of it, while others continue the cycle.  We talked about stereotypes and the few and loud who seem to perpetuate them by announcing the ways they are working the system while the majority of recipients struggle quietly, and carry the shame and stigma.  We talked about how Mary eventually had an adult who helped her make a plan for college.  And we noted we had all heard real life stories of rags to riches, and wondered what makes this possible for some people and not others, is it having a mentor? is it something else? 

I wondered aloud if perhaps the difference for Mary was that she was born with the skills needed to succeed.  She showed us in the book repeatedly how she set goals and made plans and carried them out .  She was persistent and organized, with good impulse control and kept her end goal in sight.   Why was she the only one in her family who could do those things?  I explained how I had been coming to understand that children, often very smart children can have under the radar learning disabilities or lagging skills that hold them back from success.  If a child is smart, but has no goal oriented persistence or organization, if he is impulsive, or disorganized and loses work he already completed, he will not succeed in school without some kind of intervention, a caring teacher, parent or other advocate who can give support where lagging skills would otherwise keep him down.  This situation is often the case for children who have ADHD, Aspergers or some other spot on the Autism Spectrum to name but a few, and often runs in families.  Another group member pointed out Mary's siblings all had different father than she did, she did not share paternal DNA with any of her siblings.  Could that be it?

From a teaching perspective I found this very hopeful.  If we know that some children struggle with these skills we can help them, we can scaffold, we can teach the skill or work around them. And we know they do, because research has been done and bright lights like Ross Greene have illustrated the effects of lagging skills and how to help children who have them, in books like The Explosive Child, and Lost at School.  Right now it is in vogue for schools to have a social curriculum that teaches children explicitly how to handle certain social interaction.  Not long ago the idea of schools teaching these skills was ridiculous to many people.  Probably still seems foolish to some people, but not to me.  Social skills, actually are just one segment of the group of skills that can hold kids back in school and life. 

 I truly believe the key to school reform that we read about everywhere we turn, is a deep understanding of our childrens' strengths and challenges, and figuring out, as educators, how to work with them or around them.   Another key is not to allow low expectations or stereotypes cloud our  vision of the learner.  If teachers, even unconciosly, think a child's homelife, or parents are the block to learning, it is like saying, "There's nothing I can do about this."  We need to be concious and cautious about assumptions, and instead look for solutions to the problems and skills we have in our power to fix and teach. 


Lori said...

First off, I admire your ability to attend bookclub meetings. I don't have the skills to sit through a meeting without flapping around the room from sheer excitement! :)

And second, I am so glad that you shared your perspective i n a form I can read and process. I have been thinking about our own family and how some of us seem to do well, while others flounder.

You got it right here:

"I wondered aloud if perhaps the difference for Mary was that she was born with the skills needed to succeed."

Absolutely. I have the very same opinion. I wonder what I could have become had I some supports in school and college. I have no regrets over my lovely life, yet, if my strengths and weaknesses had been properly analysed, I would have struggled less.

The wonderful benefit from taking this view is that you can build skills to help you compensatre and you can choose a career that suits you better. Quality of life is so important!

Thank you for sharing!


Amy Boyden said...

HI again Lori! So glad you found my message accessible. As I sit here writing at home I try to be as clear as I can, but one never really knows till someone else reads it right? I am fairly lucky in someways that I do fly under the radar. I tend to rock, my body, or my foot--I never realized how often--My foot rocking shakes the car at a stoplight-I rock myself to sleep--my husband will miss me when I am gone :)--but I guess I am not too disruptive to others. Your thoughts were in mind as I wrote my next post. Thank you. Best, Amy

Amy Boyden said...

Oh yes, and I am also a hair twirler :)