January 21, 2013

The Span of the Knowledge Gap

Last week, my students read an interesting article in Scholastic magazine about how race is changing in America. In case you don't know, in 2011, for the first time in our history, more non-whites were born in this country than whites.

Since my student population is like 99.99% black, I knew they'd find this interesting. The article outlined reasons why this is changing (recent immigration, varying birth rates, an increase in mixed-marriages and children) and how it will impact our society. The prediction is that by 2050, there will be more non-whites in this country.

While most of my students were able to speculate how such a change can impact them in the future, there were some students who really struggled with this whole concept. I was having a really hard time figuring out why, until I sat down with one student, individually.

Me: In this section here, the article is talking immigration. Do you know what that is?

Student: (blank stare)

Me: You may have heard about illegal immigrants. They talk about that on the news a lot.

Student: Oh!! Is that when the weather man comes on the screen?

Me: (completely dumbfounded) Well, I'm not sure why the weather man would talk about it. They're talking about people who move here from other countries. Look in this paragraph. Can you tell me the three countries from which people are recently emigrating?

Student: (reads) Mexico, China, and India.

Me: Good! And what do we know about all these people?

Student: (blank stare)

Me: How would these people be impacting the racial shift in our country?

Student: (blank stare)

Me: What race are these people?

Student: White!

Me: Really? Mexicans are white?

Student: (Increasingly confident) Yes!

Me: And what about Chinese people. Do they look like me?

Student: (Very excited now) Yeah!

Me: And what race are Indian people?

Student: I don't know. I don't know what that is.

Me: (pulled up a photo of an Indian family from the Internet) Do they look white?

Student: YES!

And here's where I knew we had a problem. This student is not even able to comprehend race. To him, you're either black or white. And since the vast majority of his world is black (except for his teachers), he doesn't even know he's disadvantaged. As we worked our way through the rest of the article, he tried to tell me that black and white people are currently in charge of major corporations like Microsoft, ABC, and Apple. To him, nothing will change in the future... because it's not likely that his world will change.

This just goes to show you that even if the reading level is right, students can't comprehend material without adequate background knowledge. And this is the perfect example of a knowledge gap I never even considered.

2 comments:

  1. Living and teaching in Title I schools have shown me how standardized testing, often created by educated individuals, are discriminatory to many sects. I remember a preview question one time that struck me as "unfair". . .it assumed that every child had seen a duck in their life. . .the question had something to do with swimming and the knowledge was that best swimmer would have webbed feet. My reaction, though, was that some of these children had probably never seen a duck. If they are living in a trailer park, only going to a school that doesn't provide field trips and only exposed to whatever the cable company can provide (and I'm assuming that latch-key kids are not tuning into National Geographic) they do not have the "worldly" experiences (that the air at the ocean is salty for instance) they cannot answer the questions well. A lot of assumptions are made in these tests. . .like you just pointed out. . .that in kids' eyes there are only two colors of skin -- which, of course, is not true but it's their perception. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Living and teaching in Title I schools have shown me how standardized testing, often created by educated individuals, are discriminatory to many sects. I remember a preview question one time that struck me as "unfair". . .it assumed that every child had seen a duck in their life. . .the question had something to do with swimming and the knowledge was that best swimmer would have webbed feet. My reaction, though, was that some of these children had probably never seen a duck. If they are living in a trailer park, only going to a school that doesn't provide field trips and only exposed to whatever the cable company can provide (and I'm assuming that latch-key kids are not tuning into National Geographic) they do not have the "worldly" experiences (that the air at the ocean is salty for instance) they cannot answer the questions well. A lot of assumptions are made in these tests. . .like you just pointed out. . .that in kids' eyes there are only two colors of skin -- which, of course, is not true but it's their perception. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    ReplyDelete