The Words They Need

If you have ever studied anything having to do with education, be it the policy, philosophy, or pedagogy of it all, you may be familiar with the term “the ten thousand word gap”. If not, let me enlighten you: the 10,000 word gap is the amount of words that children from wealthier, more established families understand when compared to children from less stable, more impoverished households. Some of this is experience based—why would a child from a poor home in Baltimore or Detroit or Chicago have the schema to know the meaning of “jacuzzi” or where Aspen, Colorado is on a map? More of it is because the offspring of parents who work 12 and 15 hour days, balance work and school and are struggling to keep the lights on aren’t usually having the kinds of rich conversations involving rhetoric and reason that you can have when your soul ain’t exhausted.

I hate to break it to you, but the 10,000 word gap doesn’t even scratch the surface anymore. From The Atlantic:

”for more than three years, they sampled the actual number of words spoken to young children from forty- two families at three different socioeconomic levels: (1) welfare homes, (2) working-class homes, and (3) professionals’ homes. Then they tallied them up. The differences were astounding. Children in professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of more than fifteen hundred more spoken words per hour than children in welfare homes. Over one year, that amounted to a difference of nearly 8 million words, which, by age four, amounted to a total gap of 32 million words. They also found a substantial gap in tone and in the complexity of words being used.”

THIRTY TWO MILLION WORDS. How does this not break your heart? I decided to write a letter to the young girls I work with with my take on the word gap.


Dear Queen,

This has been a really rough week for us  Heck, it’s been a rough month—the year was supposed to fly by after Spring break, but instead it has trudged, weighed down by your antsy silliness and my frustration, your lack of integrity and my frustration, my frustration and your…frustration. Here we are though, with 6 more weeks until I set you free. Some of you swear you aren’t returning, which I, a veteran of your parent’s hasty promises yet unkept, will believe only when I don’t see you in August.

You’ve been driving me crazy lately because, after all, it is May, and I feel like I am having to use the precious amount  of words per minute  that I get with you haranguing instead of encouraging and nagging instead of supporting. I don’t like that. PLEASE understand that I hate that just as much as you do.  I want to close your word gap singlehandedly with all that you are missing, and that’s such a lofty goal that I walk away exhausted. 

You, my dear, have a word gap. Here is what you hear regularly. 

No – This is the word that takes away your permissions, shuts down your imagination, stunts your growth and blocks your escape route. Often, it is a response to a decision that you’ve made. No, you can’t eat in the lunchroom because you won’t sit down. No, you can’t have your cell phone in class because despite all the good that could be done with it, all you’d do is make Musicsal.ly videos all the livelong day. No, you can’t play outside because I need you to come home in one piece. No, you can’t go with your friends because I don’t get paid until next week. On and on and on.

Stop – Stop switching. Stop being fast. Stop looking at these boys (never mind the fact that these boys are looking at you and should hold equal responsibility). Stop being so loud. Stop getting smart. Stop cursing. Stop running. Stop being too much and too little and too late and not enough. 

Never – You will never get off of this block. Never be more than this. Never be better that me or your mom or your dad or your guardian. Never win. Never try. You will never get into the school of your choice acting like that. You will never pass. Never  grow. Never change. Who you are is why you’ll always be. 

Here are the words that I want to fill your gap with:

Yes – Yes, you can complete that assignment  You can get it back with a grade you were expecting and submit it again because once you know better, you do better. Yes, you can demand to be treasured and cared for. Yes, you deserve goodness and light. Yes, you can have a hug. Yes, the world is conspiring for your well being. Yes, you are made of the same universe as stardust and high tide and the Aurora Borealis and you are twice as magical as any of these.

Go Confidently in the direction of your dreams. Go pursue that thing that scares you. Go hug that person that you had beef with and fixed, but the atmosphere still feels a little beefy. Go take that class. Go sing that song. Whatever you do, just GO. 

Passport – You loved making food from around the world. You loved trying my Spanish snacks last month and have been harassing me for a new country even with my protestations that I don’t know when the next box comes. I wish for you to hope on a plane and go somewhere where you don’t speak the language. I want you to feel small at the base of the ocean. To taste your humanity at the top of a hike . To be confidently lost in the wilderness is an excellent allegory for your life. 

Freedom – Freedom from your phone. Freedom from expectations. Freedom from an oppressive regime that paints targets in tears and legislation on the backs of your brothers. Freedom from sadness. Freedom from shame. Freedom from the inner city. Freedom from worry. I want you to have a taste of total liberation and get so hooked on it that you chafe under anything that restrains you. 

Home – Home is anywhere and anything that brings you comfort. Maybe that is here in Baltimore. Maybe that’s a beach in Bali. Maybe it’s a classroom in a district that supports your inquisitiveness. Maybe it’s where the lights are always on and there is ample food and a warm embrace from someone who REALLY wants to hear about your day. Maybe it’s her. Maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s a forehead kiss or a chicken box from someone that studied your love language and wants to make it happen. I found my home in spoken word and cuddles with friends and in Jesus and maybe even in him, but my home isnt’t necessarily yours. Find where you are rooted. 

Love – I don’t want you to get to 25 before you know what Love is and I don’t want you to be 30 before you demand it for yourself. Love is high standards and high pitched laughter and trips to the movies and watching you march and stupid inside jokes. Love is also coming back to work with you a mere 24 hours after you told me to get the f*** out of your face and gave me your arse to kiss…and harboring no resentment. Love is giving you 1000 chances to break my heart into fragments with the gaps in your  heart because chance # 999 May be the one that clicks. Everybody in the world isn’t equipped to love you this way. Respect the effort. 

I would be here all day if I continued typing the words that I want to fill your gap with—but these will have to do for now. If I am lucky, you’ll leave me in June fully able to define these words. In the words of Kendrick—-we gon’ be alright. Let’s just continue to add new words ok? You can always use my pen. 

 

Love you always,

Ms. O.

I Dare YOU

Hello beautiful people!

I would like to start this post off by saying that I think that I am a loving person. I have gotten this far into my twenties and deep into some really awesome sister circles by following the Golden Rule that we all were overexposed to during childhood, probably on at least one Garfield poster:

 

garfieldIronic that Garfield is being used as the moral authority.

 

The rule, otherwise known as the ethic of reciprocity, is simply to treat others the way that you want to be treated. The hard truth, however, is that people are fickle. We have the best of intentions (sometimes), but we are only human, and we battle against things such as anger, resentment, jealousy, busyness, pride, and so much more. The hard truth is that sometimes we come across someone who challenges the freeness and openness with which we thought we loved. This person may be a friend who loves you with all of your heart. It may be a spouse or significant other who arouses all of that JUNK in you, the not feeling good enough, the wanting to know their every waking move for fear that they’ve found a better option–all those things that you thought that you were done with and healed from. Whoever it is, use them when they are presented. Use them as an opportunity to refine your love and make it more Christlike. I dare you.

For me, my person is my mentee. This is us:

sisses.jpg Check out my expression. I am IMPOSSIBLY cool.

Like I said before, I would consider myself, for lack of a more adult adjective: NICE. I think I am generous. I believe deeply in family and in friendships that value quality over quantity. I was never that girl that needed everyone to know her name. I prefer meaningful interactions, heartfelt words, and creative gestures. I revel in the random and the just because. Mentee here has often been the recipient of that. Everything that I have learned in 29 years, I pour into her 20 so that she hopefully can skip some of my aches and pains.

That girl up there? She is warm, and she is funny with an infectious laugh. She is principled, and she is open hearted. She is smart.

But does she challenge the way I love? Absolutely.

She does things that leave me scratching my head. She gives people a 1000th chance who have messed her over 999 times. She makes decisions that I honestly don’t follow. And lately, this relationship has been the one that challenges my insecurity, with whispers along the lines of ‘girl, you thought you were doing something? Pssh. You’ve made no difference whatsoever.’ And its times like that where my love for her can be misconstrued and filtered through all of the crap that she has had to deal with and it comes out feeling to her like she is being attacked and judged and put down. It is then that I have to take a deep breath, step back, normally cry to my own mentors, and…inevitably, I square back up. I rejoin the fight. I remember that when I did the foolishness that I did, God welcomed me back and He didn’t even ask for an explanation of my stupidity. I show her grace, and I do so remembering that there is no way and no minion in hell that can keep me from loving her. It reminds me of a post I saw on Facebook that I related to my students at first:

kidslove

We all need to be loved. The strength and the ferocity of that love might differ from person to person, but the Bible clearly states that we are in need of some love that manifests in the fruits of the spirit.

This week, I dare you to be reckless with your love. I dare you to love on somebody that is making it increasingly difficult and to stick with them through their storm if for no other reason than the fact that Christ loved us at our most unloveable  and we can come to Him time and time again bruised, broken down and dirty from the weight of the sins that we still choose to partake in while claiming to love Him–and in return, He offers us redeeming love. Grace.

I dare you to go out of your way for somebody. To love on someone that can’t offer anything in return, not even their heart. Love on someone who is so downtrodden that love itself sometimes seems like the most hopeless of causes, and feel free to come looking for me if the very power of your reckless love doesn’t make them bloom, however slowly.

I dare you to love using the fruits of the Spirit:

I dare you to be JOYFUL.

I dare you to be PEACEFUL right in the middle of an emotional Nor’Easter.

I dare you to show FORBEARANCE–in other words, be patient when they resist. And they WILL resist. Its what hurt people do.

I dare you to be KIND and GOOD to people this week.

I dare you to be FAITHFUL and stay in those trenches when everyone else has said “this is too much” and leaves shaking their head.

I dare you to be GENTLE–with both the person you are loving on AND with yourself. Baby, you deserve to be loved and understood with just as much of a soft touch as they do.

And I dare you to exercise some SELF CONTROL–to not snap when they snap at you, to not give up on them when things look grim, and to wait for the glorious unfolding that happens when someone feels secure in the calm waters of you.

Let me know how it goes, darlings. I’ll be waiting.

Be blessed,

StephTheScribe