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The Power of Talk

May 31st, 2014 | Posted by David Whitfield in Educational Justice

The Power of Talk
After reading the research about the “The Power of Talk,” I constantly thought about the three groups of children studied in the project. After I describe the three different groups, I invite teachers, school administrators, principals, parents, and professors of education, counselors, and those with formal or informal leadership roles serving our schools, to chime in. My two questions to the school leadership are: What would you do? And how would you do it?

Here’s the scenario. You have children in your classroom from three categories as used in the study of families: welfare, working class, and professional. Children from the welfare families have heard their parents speak to them on average 600 words per hours. Children from working class families have heard their parents speak to them some 1,200 words per hour; children from the professional families have heard their parent speak to them some 2,200 words per hour. By the time the children from the welfare families reach the age of three (3), they will not have heard some three million words (3, 000,000 words). These children are from three different cultures.

Your Action: What would you do first, teacher? What would you do second? What culturally responsive teaching strategies would you bring to these children? Just how would you engage them? Mind you, the children who have not heard some three million words, in my view, cannot catch up to their peers; they cannot makeup that deficit. How will you bring educational justice for all to your classroom? And I believe for those who think that “one size fits all,” need to rethink their thinking because that’s an example of a deficit ideology: their thinking is fraught with discrepancies.

My childhood was similar to that of a welfare family. On the plantation we heard perhaps 50 words per hour; and those words weren’t friendly or engaging; they were punishing, mean, hard; and I have paid a price for those deficits. To this day, I still work to recover when writing, thinking, or speaking. Can you imagine a child entering a classroom having heard only 50 or 100 word per hour? How will that child compare to say, the shopkeeper’s son, or the plantation owner’s son, or the teacher’s daughter who is obviously more advanced? Not well. Mind you, some of these children are marked by the color of their skin; some are marked by the quality of clothes they wear, their race, gender, and other cultural and ethnic differences. Think of other difference markers (be they perceived or real) such as, size, weight, sexual orientation, etc.

At my first integrated school, I was set back two grades—demoted. And I wasn’t qualified for the grade to which I was set back. My homeroom teacher, a White man, with Ben Franklin style glasses, spoke words to me I didn’t understand. “You don’t understand me, do you? What are you?” He said. My being close to him didn’t help; I was nervous because I had not been that close to a white person until then. I did not understand his questions; there was too much confusion in my head. After reassembling myself, I felt cheated, less than. Many of my classmates giggled, laughed, pointed at me. I was on a very ugly stage, the stage of illiteracy, performing an act for which I had not rehearsed, though I had been cast in the role. Painful!

So how are the children? All the children? What kind of stage are we setting for them? How culturally responsive are we to them as learners? And what is the cost if our teaching approaches are infested with deficit ideologies? Colonialized thinking? Why don’t we talk to our children more? The power of talk is free.

What shall we do? How can we do this, together? Any ideas?

Virginia FB

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