Just about two years ago my wife Michele and I became grandparents. The new role is intriguing on multiple personal levels but there is one aspect of this that I have to admit I had not anticipated.
I was raised in an upper middle class household. It was important to my parents that I become successful when I grew up so when I was young a great emphasis was placed upon furthering my education. Michele had a similar upbringing. Therefore, when we raised our own children school and learning played a major role in the lives of our family.
The importance of a good education is a value that has now been passed down to a third generation. My daughter and her husband began reading to our grandson Oliver from the moment he was born. Their constant repetition of sounds and syllables to him and their requests that he repeat them back has had an amazing intellectual impact on the toddler. His vocabulary even by the time he was 18 months old was in the hundreds of words.
Am I happy about this course of events? I’m of course thrilled. But it also has me thinking about others who are not as fortunate to have the same parents as Ollie.
I’ve been actively involved in Washington D.C.’s charter school movement for almost 20 years. Many of these schools teach high concentrations of children who are living in poverty. The raising of these kids can be much different than that of our grandson. For example, Paul Tough, the author of the well respected book “How Children Succeed,” has written about a study which demonstrated that children reared by professionals had heard 30 million words by age three while those dependent on welfare had heard just 10 million. The researchers concluded that this difference was the cause of the failure in school and life for those living on the lower end of the economic spectrum.
The reality that a child’s future is determined by the family the boy or girl is born into strikes many people as terribly unfair. But fortunately for us there are many heroic individuals in the D.C. community who are working with low income parents to assist with turning this situation around. In fact, if I tried to recall them all I would certainly unintentionally leave many out. But I just want to mention one.
A few months ago I had the great privilege of interviewing Katherine Bradley, the co-founder of the CityBridge Foundation. I have reflected on our discussion often since that time. The conversation was fascinating on multiple fronts but the most interesting comment from her revolved around why she became involved in fighting to close the academic achievement gap. Here’s what she said:
“I realized that if my children had been born just four miles away, their lives might have had a completely different outcome. Is that either right or fair? I think about what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, what it would be like to desperately want a great school for your child, and not to have it, when someone four miles away, or someone who won the charter lottery, does. If you can feel that injustice, the only real choice is to be committed until you see that it is fixed.”
In honor of my grandson’s upcoming second birthday, I will try harder to make sure the four mile injustice comes to a speedy end.