Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Never Enough

As my heart beats, I care about children. As I breathe, I want every child to feel safe, heard, smart, and believed. As my blood flows, I desire to ensure that every child has what she/he requires in order to feel safe, heard, smart, and believed. And, knowing what I know; believing what I believe to be true, I am forever uneasy, endlessly restless, and never feeling like I am doing enough for the kids in our nation.

I recently heard a radio story of the lifelong effects of stress and anxiety experienced in childhood. The researcher in the story shared a sense of “surprise” that the data revealed that anxiety and stress in childhood relate strongly to chronic diseases later in life. (“Childhood Stress may Prime the Pump for Chronic Disease Later,” NPR, September 29, 2015). This is at least the third time in three years that I have heard such a story on the radio. I’m not doing enough.

Research says that young children need time for free play in order to develop social skills, interact positively with others, and feel successful in school (Bandura, 1991; Whitebread, 2014). Other research says that our youngest children require nurturing, direct attention, and to hear millions of words spoken to them in order to develop strong reading skills (Tough, 2008). As I hear stories of very young children who struggle with social skills and thus become labeled as difficult or challenging (labels, once believed, are hard to shake), I know that I am not doing enough. As I hear stories of a legislature who wants to punish kids who can’t read by age 8, I know that I am not doing enough.

“Recent research has demonstrated that factors such as anxiety, stress, fear of failure, stereotype threat, and low sense of belonging can substantially impact working memory, executive functioning, and intellectual performance” (Kaufman and Duckworth, 2015, p. 3). As I work in a nation that focuses so intently and immensely on standardized test data to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers, schools, and students, I know that I am not doing enough.

In 1983, Howard Gardner conceptualized the idea of Multiple Intelligences. It says that there are many ways to be smart--the lenses through which we understand the world and our areas of passion. Some express what they know through the arts, others with words, some through nature, and still others through movement. “Gardner’s work reframes one of the subtlest, most pervasive and most destructive mental models about school: the linking of achievement to the most intellectual forms of intelligence and the devaluation of all other forms. This view of intelligence (and thus of human value) has devastating effects on the vast number of children whose gifts are overlooked or ignored in school. (Senge, et. al, 2012, p. 182). I know that I am not doing enough.

Childhood is a gift, experienced by many. For those children who are rushed through it; whose fundamental needs are not met, their paths forward are riddled with potholes and earthen dams. Although these challenges are not insurmountable (after all, our society would never define a child as hopeless), a collective and insuppressible vigor in preventing them is the very definition of humanity.

As long as my heart beats, my breath comes, and my blood flows, I will believe that we can ensure that every child experiences an enriching childhood. Along the way, uneasiness, restlessness, and the feeling that I can never do enough will perpetually accompany me.