Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
Oscar Hammerstein II
Economic hardship is reality of American life. More and more families from all walks of life experience it. Factories close, industries shutdown and what was relevant today may become obsolete tomorrow. This combined with the fact that life itself is unpredictable, lets us know that we could never be too smug about where we are at the moment. That is perhaps what I find so troubling about witnessing parents who fail to teach this basic principle to their children.
Over the course of the summer I stood outside the YMCA selling Ground Cover, the foremost authority on street news in Ann Arbor. Time and again I was ignored by parents escorting their children into camp. Invariably, a child would ask her parent to explain what my question, “Have you gotten this month’s Ground Cover?” meant. But countless times a teachable moment about poverty and economic diversity was lost. Otherwise intelligent, educated parents bypassed the opportunity to demonstrate an important life lesson in economic differences.
But what will happen to these youth when during their education, on the job, or even in their personal lives they encounter individuals whose economic experiences are far different from their own?
How prepared will they be when they encounter a job loss, illness or any one of the myriad problems that life can introduce. Will they face the same hostilities and misunderstandings that are now leveled at those who live below the poverty line or will they have worked to build a stronger, more compassionate world wherein they will be understood and not lose respect because of a life circumstance? Hopefully, the latter is true. But it has to start somewhere.
The future is not always as secure as a middle class lifestyle might suggest. I find it nothing less than irresponsible to allow a child to grow up with little perception of the world other than what the narrow confines of that a middle class life reveals. It seems a shame that parents and grandparents spend time and energy preparing for a camp experience but in no way offers insight about life’s realities as it relates to economic diversity.
As a former classroom teacher and educator, I am more convinced that the curricula in all grades and subjects reflect the realities of economic and social diversity. Where the home leaves off, it is vital that education take up the slack. Without that education, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past.
How a child experiences life financially, emotionally, and psychologically tomorrow may depend on the life’s lessons she or he learns today.