A Lamb’s Tale

A Lamb’s Tale

Not an actual representation of the event- I was not that cute
It is a sad fact of nature that animals sometimes reject
their young, some more aggressively than others. An early lesson we learned as kids was that
sweet gentle bunny rabbits will actually eat their babies. Sorry folks, but
that cute mother rabbit can be a cannibalistic nightmare! Others, such as cows and sheep, simply refuse
feed or don’t produce milk, resulting in what are called bucket calves or
lambs.
There are many farm kids who have experienced the joys of
having a baby lamb or calf to feed. (And in the realities of the sometimes cruel
circle of life, seen them carted off to market- just keeping it real for
you.) One of my earliest farm memories
involved a sweet little bucket lamb.
My Uncle Art can confirm the momentous day when I went with
him to feed the lamb whose mother had rejected her. I was probably about four years old, and the
lamb was so cute that when she was finished eating I wanted her to stick
around. She started to wander off and I
unknowingly grabbed the wrong handle. When I grabbed her tail, it came off in my hand. Horrified at the prospect of permanently
disfiguring the poor little creature, I immediately began trying to stick the
tail back on the beast. I remember my
uncle roaring with laughter; and thinking, “my kind uncle has an evil
side! He thinks mangling baby animals is
hilarious.”
When my sheepish tears of terror subsided, my uncle
explained that all lambs lose their tails. He pointed out that none of the sheep had tails, and they fall off
because they are “banded.” Admittedly, it was much later this made any
sense to me. (Contact KASB Past President Rod Stewart if you need more
information.) And as the joke is told at every family gathering for the past
fifty years, I realized the funny part was me trying to stick that
tail back on.
Childhood can be so traumatic, for lambs, kids, and
children. Unfortunately for children in
poverty, trauma takes a far more dramatic shape than pulling off a lambs
tail. Research tells us that children in
poverty are exposed to environmental toxins
inadequate nutrition, maternal depression, parental substance abuse, trauma and
abuse, violent crime, divorce, low-quality child care, and decreased cognitive
stimulation at a much higher rate than their higher income peers. www.childtrends.org/?indicators=children-in-poverty
An early study on language development was done in Kansas
City, Kansas by Rice University researchers. The six-year longitudinal study, called the Turner Preschool Study,
found that by age three, children in poverty were subjected to 30 million fewer
words than their middle class and professional peers. Perhaps more concerning, children of
professionals received 6 words of encouragement for every one word of
discouragement, compared to one encouraging word to two discouraging words for
children in poverty.
One of the most recent studies uses neuroimaging to show
that children in poverty’s brains development lags behind other children at a
rate of 8-10 percent. www.scientificamerican.com/article/poverty-disturbs-children-s-brain-development-and-academic-performance
Similar to baby lambs tails, this developmental lag lasts through
adulthood. The researchers summarized
their findings with this statement, “The
results were clear—the effects of low socioeconomic status are apparent even in
kids who grew up otherwise healthy.”
The
Kansas State Board of Education established that kindergarten readiness is an
outcome that should be measured to assure that eventually students will be
college and career ready. Another
outcome the board wants local districts to measure is social/emotional
growth. These are worthy outcomes, for
sure, and they are attainable given appropriate resources. However, achievement of the outcomes is
greatly complicated by the conditions of poverty.
In
Kansas, different communities, districts, and schools, have different
challenges and struggles. One district
records 4 percent of its students receive free lunches (The free lunch threshold is
roughly 1.5 times the poverty rate.) while another reports 72 percent of its students
get free lunches. The range among school
buildings is even more dramatic. Several
schools show less than 1 percent free lunch rates and at the other end, many hover
around the 94 percent rate.
Districts
in which 72 percent of students suffer from “environmental toxins inadequate nutrition, maternal depression, parental substance
abuse, trauma and abuse, violent crime, divorce, low-quality child care, and
decreased cognitive stimulation at a much higher rate than their higher income
peers” will certainly have more challenges meeting the Kansans Can outcomes
than those districts in which 4 percent have those challenges.
Comparing
the resources needed to educate children from these widely divergent
circumstances as if they were the same is a fool’s errand. The challenges are not equal and neither are
the resources needed to meet them. That
is the difficulty of writing a school finance formula, and that is why KASB members
have determined that adjustments in resources are needed to accommodate differences
in children.
At the same
time, KASB members have recognized that in some districts, the challenges
require more local flexibility for additional funding. Both of these challenges are far less
formidable if the basic level of funding for all is increased to an adequate
level. KASB members do not accept Billy
Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” fatalism when it comes to accommodating the
needs of children. Year after year, our
members recognize that we all have to work together for the best interests of
all children in our state.
Either banding a tail, or trying to put it back on?
Four-year-old
boys can’t put the tail back on a lamb, but given the appropriate resources,
educators and school leaders can meet the challenges that their local needs
present.