The Great Divide

The weird thing about being really excited to finally be in an education program is that I’m beginning to perceive everything in education terms. Everything. I’m listening to my friends teach each other and thinking that they’re doing a good job of scaffolding, but that they could use a little more wait-time in between their instructions. I’m eating dinner and consciously differentiating between the casual register I use with family and the academic register necessary to process news on TV. I’m making realizations about the importance of lesson hooks before I go to bed.

This is very strange.

So in the spirit of tying more things to education, let’s start talking about education in the news.

… I know that segue wasn’t great. I’m still working on my hooks.

A recent article in The Globe and Mail discusses the ever-widening gap between income and education. The case is not so much that intelligent children are likely to come from wealthy families but rather that youth raised in wealthy environments have a much greater chance to enhance their education. Such enhancements can come in the form of extra tutoring, stay-at-home parents who help with homework or even field trips that provide opportunities for greater holistic interdisciplinary learning. Students who come from homes in a lower income bracket do not have these opportunities and may instead have other things to worry about such as having enough to eat for lunch at school or having to take care of younger siblings because their parents are working several part-time jobs.

Photo credit to hpeguk @ Flickr via Creative Commons

In fact my professor brought this topic up today in class as well, pointing out that students who come from non-professional homes (i.e. homes where neither parent graduated from a post-secondary institution) will naturally hear significantly less academic language in their everyday lives. If one grade 3 student were to hear 50 academic words a day and another grade 3 student were to hear 75, the difference initially seems small. However, by the time the students are in grade 10 the first student will have heard 182500 words, a small number compared to the 273750 the second student would have heard. The differences between students from different income backgrounds are compounded; the gap widens exponentially every year.

So what is to be done in the face of this ever-progressing, ever-increasing gap? We can certainly raise funding so that schools with lower-income students have more similar opportunities to that of their wealthier peers. Money doesn’t solve everything though; what caught my eye in the article were the ways in which schools could help benefit the community around them as well. Literacy nights for parents as well as children, low- or no-cost sports teams and homework clubs after school all do their part to include students in a nurturing and enriching environment. This brings to my mind my own practicum school as well. One of the first things my faculty advisor said to describe the school was that the students there mostly did not come from wealthy families; in fact, most of them come from low- to middle-income families. Yet when I entered the school I saw little, if any, evidence that these students were from a tougher background, and I believe that one of the reasons for this lack of evidence was because my school is filled to the brim with extracurricular activities and places wherein the students can relax and reside. The teachers within the school work extra hard to give the students a flourishing music program, after-school homework club with peer tutors, a full-time dance program, extremely qualified second-language instructors and business mentorships, to name a few.

Because of what I’ve witnessed thus far, I’m certainly looking forward to getting my first full-time job because to some extent, as a teacher who participates and provides extracurricular activities, I’ll be battling the socioeconomic inequalities that exist within my own everyday world. Teachers can’t solve everyone’s problems around me with their monetary donations (although money is almost always a necessary aid) but they can certainly give their time. What about you? How do you think we can improve or make up for the disparities that stem from lower incomes? What can we do as teachers to give students more opportunities to develop in their understanding of the world around us?


Interested in more reading? Check out what this post says on the impact poverty has on our cognitive abilities. Do you think this applies to students as well as their parents?


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