Monday, March 4, 2013

It Takes a Network to Raise a Child

  In my first post in this series on Jumpstart ( a national organization dedicated to developing literacy in underprivileged preschools, I raised the following question: how much can and does Jumpstart really accomplish? As this series has tracked social barriers to education and the political stakes of providing quality education, it has become clear that the impact of Jumpstart is tangled up in many different factors. No child is an island, separate from the circumstances of his or her life; with barriers like school closings and lack of resources affecting children’s educations, how can Jumpstart make a difference through the albeit noble and important cause of developing language and literacy skills? [...]

        My last post focused on individual impact—children have markedly improved their language skills over the course of my last few months working for Jumpstart. Notably, however, the impact doesn’t end there: Jumpstart has spurred my own individual involvement not only with these children but with the educational system, with issues of inequality and inadequate resources, and with other members of my own small community. Through my work and training, I have entered into a larger network of people and organizations passionate about children’s literacy education.

        As I have been considering how Jumpstart has an impact on the community where I currently live (Hyde Park), I was at first dispirited: my limited interactions with parents and educators make it hard to gauge the influence Jumpstart has on their lives, and although the University of Chicago is involved with Jumpstart, its offices are still fairly small, relatively unknown by other branches of the university.

        Yet at the same time, I see a growing concern for children’s education in my day-to-day interactions. Even as friends share this blog, or begin conversations about the Chicago Public School system, I realize that community is not necessarily about locality. This is not to say that the necessity of spending time supporting the local community is not important—in fact, support is of utmost importance, something that has only recently begun to be recuperated between Woodlawn and the university, for example—but the focus cannot stop there. In order to make the greatest difference in children’s literacy, we need to utilize networks which extend from next-door to across the country.

        Although the proverbial village needed to raise a child might not make sense in today’s globalized world, perhaps it does take a network to raise a child.

        This is already a prevalent idea at the local level: parents rely on family members, teachers, school administrators, and community programs (Jumpstart, for example) to instill values, knowledge, and skills in their children. But it need not stop there: besides the obvious politicians, policy-makers, and advocators who have an impact on children, even simply other individuals can change the way we view education and the social problems that surround it.

        Take for example the recent case of the Onion’s offensive tweet about Quvenzhane Wallis during the Oscars. While admittedly most children do not receive as much attention as she does, what was amazing about the incident was the immediate and massive response to the Onion. Twitter, Facebook, and Buzzfeed were flush with angry posts on the subject, causing the Onion to post an apology to Facebook shortly thereafter. What is important is not necessarily the number of people upset, nor the discourses which constituted the initial tweet (which some have argued was meant to criticize the way society feels no qualms baselessly insulting celebrities) or the apology; what is important is the way in which individual people and organizations were able to impact the Onion’s response. If no one had reacted, or even if only a few people had reacted, the Onion would not necessarily have felt such an imperative to remove the tweet and apologize.

        But the voices of individuals matter—when we are consciously taking part in a larger network, in which the ability to sway a crowd has become the ability to be retweeted, liked, or shared—not only information but views can be spread rapidly.

This is exactly the impact Jumpstart has on the community: not only does Jumpstart make a difference in local communities by supporting local literacy events and working with individual children to develop language and literacy skills, but Jumpstart also spreads the value of children’s literacy through its much larger networks.

To say that it takes a network to raise a child isn’t limited simply to helping the child grow up. It’s about raising the child in the sense of improving that child’s life, helping that child to succeed, and according them the value they deserve as a person, rather than as a statistic. In order to raise the children of our local communities, of our cities, and of our nation, we need to support and advocate for them in our own ever-expanding networks of friends, family, community, followers, coworkers, and anyone who is making a difference in childhood education. 

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