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A Living Wage and School

Sometimes the most radical school reform that would be helpful for children doesn’t take place in the school. It takes place in the house. A child’s learning environment during the first three years of life has a dramatic and lasting impact on that child’s school performance for the rest of their life. Put simply, improve the household, improve the school. It is by no accident that virtually every so-called “F” school in the United States houses a lot of children that come from families under economic stress, sometimes severe, in the cases of poverty. I am going to propose ways to get rid of “F” schools without touching the school.

The first solution to “F” schools is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. There are tens of millions of Americans who earn less than $10 an hour for corporations ranging from fast food restaurants to grocery stores to gas stations to big-box stores, that work hard and receive little for it. Many millions of low wage workers are young people at child-bearing age that either have or will have children shortly. For those that somehow don’t know, you can’t raise a child on minimum wage. This is true even if both parents are working, but especially true of the single parent.

There are several things that happen to infants in homes of little money that effect their learning ability later on in life. One is the quality of their diet. Brain development and physical health are directly related to the quality and variety of the food a child eats. People living in poverty often have poor nutrition and this affects children in many subtle ways. Little money also means little travel to other stimulating environments or experiences. It may mean a sterile environment at the home, also, with not much for “frills,” such as books, telescopes, globes, etc.

Even more important is the impact of low wages on the amount of quality time that a child gets to spend with their parents. People working for low wages often have two jobs just to stay afloat. This is especially true for the single parent. If an adult hardly gets to spend any time with their child it is hard to actually “parent,” as in shaping their child’s life. Unfortunately, in many households, the television takes the parenting role, which is never good on several levels, including brain development.

I know that this is quaint, but when I was a child it was common for one parent to work all day and the other to stay at home to teach, raise and shape the child. If one parent stays at home, they can give the child an intellectual foundation by reading to them and with them. They can write, do art, play music, do science experiments, explore outdoors and play together. The parent and child can experience math in a hundred different fun ways on top of loving and bonding together as a family. All of this happens in infancy and all of this depends on a parent actually being home at the house, which depends on one parent being able to make enough money for all of this to work, which leads me to my second school reform.

Our economy should be set up so that those who work can make a “living” wage. If parents made a “living” wage, then they would have choices besides day-care or no-care. Society itself is built around families nurturing their children, and it is in society’s interest to have the economic model do the same. If parents are given the resources to raise their children properly, then all of the hand-wringing over “F” schools will become a moot point, because the “F” school will cease to exist.

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