Lessons from Bangladesh in Reducing Child Mortality

Bangladesh — the world’s eighth most populous country with 162 million inhabitants — has made tremendous and inspiring strides in reducing child mortality. This is despite the fact that it is a very poor country, with half the GDP per capita of not-particularly-rich neighbors India and Pakistan.

Less than two decades ago, the rate of death for children under five was 54% higher than the global average — now, it is 16% lower than the world average, and less than even its comparatively wealthier neighbors. Child deaths from diarrhea and other enteric diseases (e.g. those from bacterial contamination of food and drink) have declined a whopping 90%; whereas in 1994, 14% of Bangladesh children in surveyed households had suffered some sort of serious enteric illness, by 2014 that number halved to 7%.

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Let Children Be Children

[We] don’t have faith in young children. And we don’t really have faith in ourselves. And we’ve been programmed to believe that the more enrichments we can add on [the better].

I think boredom can be a friend to the imagination. Sometimes when kids appear to be bored, actually they haven’t had enough time to engage in something. We quickly whisk it away and move them along to the next thing. And that’s when you say, “How can I help the child to look at this in a new way? To try something new, to be patient.”

You’ve really kind of adultified childhood so kids really don’t have those long, uninterrupted stretches of time to engage in fantasy play. And because we’ve kind of despoiled the habitat of early childhood, a lot of times they don’t know what to do when given that time. So we kind of have to coach them.

I think there’s a little bit of a repair process that we need to engage in. Because if you’ve got a kid who’s used to going to a million lessons and only uses toys that have one way of using them and then, suddenly, you put them in a room with a bunch of boxes and blocks and say, “Have fun!”, the kid’s gonna say, “Are you kidding me? What?!”

— Erika Christakis, in an interview by NPR’s Corey Turner,
What Kids Need From Grown-Ups (But Aren’t Getting)”

Harvard researchers have mapped the five child-rearing techniques you need to raise kind kids

These recommendations may seem commonsensical, but given how kindness and compassion towards others is often treated as a secondary concern at best, it is important to reaffirm the importance of cultivating an ethical, empathic mindset among future generations. Given what is in store in our future, it is more important than ever.

U.S. Leads Developed World in Child Poverty

Over the past six years, America’s wealth expanded by over $30 billion — a growth rate of 60 percent — despite the weak recovery. During the same span of time, another metric grew by that percentage: the number of homeless and food insecure children.

As Raw Story reports, despite its vast and ever-growing wealth, the world’s richest country by a considerable margin lags behind most other developed nations in measurements of child poverty.

America is a ‘Leader’ in Child Poverty

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”

Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

$5 a Day for Food, But Congress Thought it was Too Much.

Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about $5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program.

In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100.

For Every 2 Homeless Children in 2006, There Are Now 3

On a typical frigid night in January, 138,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing, were without a place to call home.

That’s about the same number of households that have each increased their wealth by $10 million per year since the recession.

The US: Near the Bottom in Education, and Sinking

The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education. Early education should be a primary goal for the future, as numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But we’re going in the opposite direction. Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Children’s Rights? Not in the U.S.

It’s hard to comprehend the thinking of people who cut funding for homeless and hungry children. It may be delusion about trickle-down, it may be indifference to poverty, it may be resentment toward people unable to “make it on their own”.

The indifference and resentment and disdain for society reach around the globe. Only two nations still refuse to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: South Sudan and the United States.

Aside from the obvious immorality of allowing so many millions of children to suffer during their most formative years, this abysmal performance in child well-being will leave a lasting legacy of social ills, poor children are increasingly more likely to remain poor for the rest of their lives (especially given the declining social mobility for which the U.S. was once famous).

The Way We Treat Children

If my perceptions are correct, there seems to be a growing sentiment (perhaps typical of each older generation) that today’s youth are needlessly and excessively coddled and “wussified” (to use the kinder terminology). But the apparently prevailing notion that kids nowadays are excessively spoiled is actually dangerously overstated, according to a recent article in AlterNet by Paul L. Thomas, a doctor of education and long-time teacher.

After recalling a few anecdotes regarding personal or observed mistreatment of kids (mostly in the context of school), he makes the following point:

A day or so ago, I received an email from Alfie Kohn about his new book, The Myth of the Spoiled Child. I noticed it was similar to a book I am co-editing, Pedagogies of Kindness and Respect: On the Lives and Education of Children. I also noted that our perspectives on children—on how parents, teachers, and society treat children—appears to be a minority view.

I have been mulling, or more likely stewing, about this for some time: What makes adults—even the ones who choose to spend their lives with children—so damned negative and hateful about those children? That is the source of my palpable anger at the “grit,”“no excuses,” and “zero tolerance” narratives and policies. I grew up and live in the South, where the default attitude toward children remains that they are to be seen and not heard, that a child’s role is to do as she/he is told. If a child crosses those lines, then we must teach her/him a lesson, show her/him who is boss—rightfully, we are told, by hitting that child: spare the rod spoil the child. I find that same deficit view of children is not some backwoods remnant of the ignorant South; it is the dominant perspective on children throughout the U.S.

As Barbara Kingsolver explains in “Everybody’s Somebody’s Baby”:

>>For several months I’ve been living in Spain, and while I have struggled with the customs office, jet lag, dinner at midnight and the subjunctive tense, my only genuine culture shock has reverberated from this earthquake of a fact: People here like kids. They don’t just say so, they do. Widows in black, buttoned-down c.e.o.’s, purple-sneakered teen-agers, the butcher, the baker, all have stopped on various sidewalks to have little chats with my daughter. Yesterday, a taxi driver leaned out his window to shout “ Hola, guapa !” My daughter, who must have felt my conditioned flinch, looked up at me wide-eyed and explained patiently, “I like it that people think I’m pretty.”

With a mother’s keen myopia, I would tell you, absolutely, my daughter is beautiful enough to stop traffic. But in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, I have to confess, so is every other person under the height of one meter. Not just those who agree to be seen and not heard. When my daughter gets cranky in a restaurant (and really, what do you expect at midnight?), the waiters flirt and bring her little presents and nearby diners look on with that sweet, wistful gleam of eye that before now I have only seen aimed at the dessert tray. Children are the meringues and eclairs of this culture. Americans, it seems to me now, sometimes regard children as a sort of toxic-waste product: a necessary evil, maybe, but if it’s not their own they don’t want to see it or hear it or, God help us, smell it.<<

I’ve often noticed — and frankly even related with — the contradictory ways in which we regard children: they’re cute and enlivening on the one hand, but also irritating and burdensome on the other.  Their easily exploitable and powerless status also makes them a tempting target for venting one’s frustration or sense of inadequacy, which perhaps explains why children — along with women and the elderly — are frequently the victims of abuse in households and care centers.

Thomas also notes how the overall negative treatment of children intersects with racist and classist sentiments as well:

A child is not a small adult, not a blank slate to be filled with our “adult weariness,” or a broken human that must be repaired. It is also true that children are not angels; they are not pure creatures suited to be set free to find the world on their own. Seeing children through deficit or ideal lenses does not serve them—or anyone—well.

>>Within the U.S. culture there is a schizophrenia around kids—we worship young adulthood in popular media, but seem to hate children—that is multiplied exponentially by a lingering racism and classism that compounds the deficit view of childhood. Nowhere is this more evident than in the research showing how people view children of color:

Asked to identify the age of a young boy that committed a felony, participants in a study routinely overestimated the age of black children far more than they did white kids. Worse: Cops did it, too… The correlation between dehumanization and use of force becomes more significant when you consider that black boys are routinely estimated to be older than they are… The less the black kids were seen as human, the less they were granted “the assumption that children are essentially innocent.” And those officers who were more likely to dehumanize black suspects overlapped with those who used more force against them.<<

In the enduring finger-pointing dominant in the U.S.—blaming the poor for their poverty, blaming racial minorities for the burdens of racism, blaming women for the weight of sexism—we maintain a gaze that blinds us to ourselves, and allows us to ignore that in that gaze are reflections of the worst among us.

Why do the police sweep poor African American neighborhoods and not college campuses in search of illegal drugs? Why do we place police in the hallways of urban high schools serving mostly poor African American and Latino students, demanding “zero tolerance”? Why are “grit” narratives and “no excuses” policies almost exclusively targeting high-poverty, majority-minority schools (often charter schools with less public oversight)?

Here’s the basic crux of Thomas’ point.

Children are not empty vessels to be filled, blank hard drives upon which we save the data we decide they should have. Nor are children flawed or wild; they do not need us to repair or break them. Neither are they to be coddled or worshipped. They are children, and they are all our children. Yes, there are lessons to be taught, lessons to be learned. But those driven by deficit or idealized views are corrupted and corrupting lessons. Each and every child—as all adults—deserves to have her/his basic dignity respected, first, and as adults charged with the care of any child, our initial question before we do anything with or to a child must be about ourselves. In 31 years of teaching, I can still see and name the handful of students I mis-served in my career, like Billy above. Those faces and names today serve as my starting point: with any child, first do no harm.

What do you think?

Link

Pressuring Kindergarteners

As if the American public education system isn’t beset with enough problems, it seems that even the youngest students can’t escape ill-informed policy and the pervasive culture of test-taking. 

This is kindergarten, the happy land of building blocks and singalongs. But increasingly in schools across Massachusetts and the United States, little children are being asked to perform academic tasks, including test taking, that early childhood researchers agree are developmentally inappropriate, even potentially damaging. If children don’t meet certain requirements, they are deemed “not proficient.” Frequently, children are screened for “kindergarten readiness” even before school begins, and some are labeled inadequate before they walk through the door.

This is a troubling trend to an experienced educator like Gerzon, who knows how much a child can soak up in the right environment. After years of study and practice, she’ll tell you that 5-year-olds don’t learn by listening to a rote lesson, their bottoms on their chairs. They learn through experience. They learn through play. Yet there is a growing disconnect between what the research says is best for children — a classroom free of pressure — and what’s actually going on in schools.

As the rest of the article grimly details, kindergarteners are contending with such policies as shorter recesses, much higher reading standards, and even curricula billed as “college prep”. 

These approaches are already of questionable effectiveness for students of older ages, so imagine their impact during a child’s formative years, where play, freetime, and unbridled creativity are both natural and desirable. Imagine the impact on their enthusiasm for an education, or on their psychological well-being ? (There are some rather perturbing examples mentioned in the article.)

I understand the desire to improve standards, especially in the midst of an unstable economy and lagging academic achievement.  But we have ample evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Trying to mold children into super-intelligent machines is as untenable as it is inhuman. Let children by children. 

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%

We need more innovative approaches like this within our education system. Punishing people, especially impressionable children, without any consideration of the root causes not accomplishes nothing, but it makes the problem much worse.

ACEs Too High

THE FIRST TIME THAT principal Jim Sporleder tried the New Approach to Student Discipline at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, he was blown away. Because it worked.

In fact, it worked so well that he never went back to the Old Approach to Student Discipline.

This is how it went down: A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension.

Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly: “Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”

The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face….”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”…and for the big boot…

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US Has Highest Rate of Child Poverty Among Developed Nations

Source: International Business Review, citing a UNICEF report.

The UNICEF report is far from the first to highlight the growing rate of childhood poverty within the U.S.  The National Center for Children in Poverty reports that in 2010, the most recent statistics available, 15 million U.S. children were living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $22,050 a year for a family of four.

Although children only compose 24 percent of the population, the organization reports they comprise nearly 34 percent of all people living in poverty. The proportion of children in poverty has been on the rise. For instance, the percentage of children living in low-income families (both poor and near poor) increased from 40 percent to 44 percent between 2005 and 2010, including an 11 percent increase among low-income children and a 17 percent rise among those living below the federal poverty rate.

In November, the U.S. Census reported that children who live in poverty during their developmental years are more likely than their peers to have cognitive and behavioral difficulties, are less likely to complete a high school education, and statistically will experience more years of unemployment as an adult.

Another interesting observation:

Interestingly, the report concluded that nations with higher rates of economic development and per capita income did not necessarily have lower rates of childhood poverty and deprivation (the latter defined as when children are lacking two or more of a list of 14 basic items, such as three meals a day, educational books at home, an Internet connection, etc.).  For instance, the report found that children living in Denmark and Sweden are less likely to live in relative poverty than those in Belgium and or Germany, even though all four countries have roughly similar levels of economic development and per capita income.

“The best performers show it is possible to address poverty within the current fiscal space. On the flip side, failure to protect children from today’s economic crisis is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make,” Alexander said.

This doesn’t bode well for our future. It’s bad enough we have a lost generation of kids with poorer job and education prospects, but now a good chunk of them will have the added hurdle of malnutrition and the social and psychological problems child poverty brings.