I have typed the beginning of this letter a hundred times because it’s really hard for me to write. I’ve been repeatedly typing, deleting, and re-typing all while blinking back tears. You see, based on my childhood neighborhoods, my family structure, my SES, and my skin color, I should have had a lack of background knowledge. My teachers should have had to go the extra mile for me, but they didn’t. They didn’t because my mom did.
I basically grew up in a single-parent home, even though my dad was always around. My high-school-educated mother moved us around a lot, due to the fact that she struggled taking care of the three of us on her meager salary. The places she could afford were not always the nicest, but certainly weren’t the worst either, and we always managed to move before eviction. The basics were really all we could afford, so we didn’t take weekend trips, make visits to museums, art galleries, or aquariums. Our school holidays were spent the days at home alone–watching tv.
Our lack of background knowledge didn’t really impact us because, fortunately, we were readers. The expectation was always there for us to excel in school, regardless of what we did on our off-days. My mother was rarely seen volunteering in schools, but she was there in us! Eventually graduating from college, she made us know education was important. She instilled in us that we were there for one purpose–learning. And we loved it! We loved everything about school! New knowledge was like air, at least for me. School always came easily for me, so I guess (according to Marzano) I was blessed with fluid intelligence. We all were. In fact, we were almost always one of only a few black girls in the advanced classes throughout school. Sure, if I had had extra exposure to add to my natural abilities, I may have become a genius, but I did very well without it. So, we’re not talking about me.
We are, however, talking about my classmates, my friends, people who look like me. People who, when I take my daughter on day-trips to the Charleston Aquarium, are NOT there. We’re talking about your students who have parents with negative experiences with learning and knowing. More than background knowledge, the home environment has a huge impact on school learning. Think about it: Marzano states that, “Academic background knowledge affects more than just “school learning.” Studies have also shown its relation to occupation and status in life.” Now think about your students’ parents and their occupations. For many of your students, their parents are lacking academic knowledge, as evidenced by their jobs or lack thereof. How would we expect them to instill in their children the need and importance of learning, even without background knowledge?
That’s why you are necessary. That’s why you make or break your students. Your actions and words regarding their education and them as learners is key. That’s why you are doing them a disservice when you do “just enough” in teaching the lesson as opposed to doing “whatever it takes” to make the learning stick. And the learning has to have something to stick to! That’s why background knowledge is vital! If they don’t have it, build it for them! Show them, take them, let them feel it, hear it, taste it! Do it for all your students, not just the ones who look like me. Learning is connecting new knowledge to old knowledge and to the world around us. Your students may never know the world around them, unless you build it for them!
The Black, Poor, & Fluidly Intelligent