As an educator I realize more than ever that a child’s success is not only dependent on what occurs in the school (between student and teacher) but also by all the events that occur before the child walks into the “safe haven” that is often the school building. Below is an article addressing the impact of invironment on education. I originally published this article on Helium.com:
I have been an educator in an urban school system for approximately 10 years. Prior to getting into education, I was in banking and finance. I majored in Psychology (clinical and social) and I have always enjoyed working with people and looking for ways to empower people to succeed at what they do and overcome obstacles. I realize that educating a child is not just a matter of curriculum but overcoming environmental stimuli that compete for a child’s attention.
The city that I work in has a lot of distractions that are very hard to avoid or ignore. There are shootings. There is gang violence and drug trafficking. There are also many single parent households. There are car thefts and of course high unemployment. Many of my students are experimenting with sex and some are being afflicted by sexual diseases. A student in that environment has to overcome and process many things just to get an education.
Each child, unless he or she has severe learning disabilities, has every opportunity to succeed. What I am seeing is that some children have more obstacles to overcome than others. Also, one child’s obstacle may be another child’s “easy pass.” Many of my students come in on Mondays discussing not their difficulties with the homework, but who “got shot” during the weekend and who was “jumped” by gang members. Some have seen their parents killed right before their eyes. Some have seen their friends killed or severely beaten. Many have had brothers and sisters who died before reaching the age of thirty. Many have friends and family members who are in jail. It is a common thing to see students wearing shirts with pictures of loved ones as a tribute to those who have died at a young age.
I often ask my students about their parents. Many of them do not know their fathers. Some have lived from one foster home to another. Many of their moms are eager to treat them as equals by the time they are 12 years old. Many are confused into thinking that they are adults even though they so much crave the attention of caregivers who will sit them down and gently walk them through how life should be lived as a child. It is common to hear young boys (11 – 13 years of age) refer to themselves as “grown men.” It is true that many have seen things that many adults have not yet experienced or never will experience. Yet, they are, at the core, children. They are children who still need to be taught to hope and to still expect the best and strive for a good education.
In such an environment It takes more than just a good curriculum and good supplies, it takes understanding the community and devising ways to counteract the negative effects that are produced. Often, I want to teach my students the importance of Newton’s Laws of Motion (Physics) and I think to myself, “wow, how calloused? These kids need some type of debriefing before I can get into any academic topic with them. They need to be able to say ‘here is what I’m going through'” They need to get the attention that many of them are not getting at home. Many parents would like to be there for them, but with minimum wage being such a “minimum” they work a lot of hours just to get by. The children need to hear over and over again, that “you will live a lot longer than your brother did,” or “you don’t have to go to jail, you can get a meaningful education and career,” or “sports and music are not your only options, you can be a doctor also, or president, if you would like.” They need a class that is not based on any standardized test. They need a class that is simply geared toward helping them have a “voice” and learning how to hope and overcome the negative effects of their environments.
I grew up in areas that were negative. Fortunately, I had two parents and other people that helped me look beyond my environment and look at what I can become and how I can make a positive difference. I had a great support system that many students, especially in “depressed areas” do not have. It may be time that we create areas in our curriculum that are geared toward enriching the emotional health of our students.