Monday, April 11, 2011

Big Questions and Lots of Coffee

     Sooo, it has been well over a month since I have posted. Almost two actually, and I'm not entirely happy about that. However, this blog kind of has to go to the back-burner when school gets crazy. And crazy it has been. But this semester, I am learning SO much about adolescence and adolescents. So much so that I feel like it's making me a better parent and most definitely a better educator.
     One thing my Adolescent Development class has been discussing repeatedly is how we can apply what we are learning to our own experiences. In other words, what could be impacting the autonomy and achievement of the adolescents in Eastern Kentucky? Personally, I find that the same answer keeps popping up repeatedly - poverty. If students aren't sure where they will sleep that night, if they will have food to eat, or who will be taking care of them, how can we expect them to "perform" well? If their parents are pill-addled and they are consistently exposed to that cultural underbelly and all of its instability, how can we expect them to focus on anything? Children are not made to compartmentalize, and they certainly don't owe the school system a good performance on state tests, particularly when we are failing them so spectacularly. The children in this region not only have to deal with poverty, but also with a culture that doesn't greatly value educational achievement, and negative stereotypes from people outside Eastern Kentucky. 
     I think the possibility of a stereotype threat for students in Eastern Kentucky is a very real one. Students rarely hear anything positive about the people of this region from anyone who lives outside of it. It seems that mainstream, outside knowledge of Appalachia consists of prescription drug abuse, coal mining, and inaccurate stereotypes of blissfully ignorant and/or feuding hill-folk. They are also told that their schools are not performing as they should, which leads them to the logical assumption that they aren’t performing as they should. Without realizing all of the external factors that are beyond their control, students have the potential to internalize all of this and assume that the stereotypes and negativity are true; that this is simply who and what they are. If they are continually told by society as a whole that they are ignorant because of where they live, and then told by their teachers, administrators, etc, that they aren’t performing  as they should in school, what are they expected to assume about themselves? So, if they assume they have no chance to rise above, then they may being to wonder why should they try.
   Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy  - “...students’ beliefs about their abilities influence the academic activities they participate in (both in and out of school), which influences their achievement, which further shapes their beliefs (Simpkins, Davis- Keans, & Eccles, 2006).” (Steinburg 410)
   As an educator and a parent living in this region, it is imperative to realize that poverty seems to be the underpinning of all that is wrong here - the drug problems, the high drop-out rate, and the lack of educational achievement. The question is what do we do about it, right?  

That's a very big question for 8:30 on Monday morning, especially when I've only had one cup of coffee. 

Steinberg, Laurence D. Adolescence. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008.

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