Remembering Raspberry’s Baby Steps!

THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2014

While heaping more praise on Rich: We want to heap a bit more praise on the New York Times’ Motoko Rich.

As a general rule, the New York Times does terrible education reporting. Yesterday, Rich did one of the finest education reports we’ve ever seen in the Times.

Rich discussed an important fact—in many cases, loving parents from low-literacy backgrounds don’t know that they should be talking and reading to their infants and toddlers. In our view, this is one of the finest examples of education reporting ever seen in the Times:
RICH (3/26/14): Educators say that many parents, especially among the poor and immigrants, do not know that talking, as well as reading, singing and playing with their young children, is important. “I’ve had young moms say, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me,’ ” said Susan Landry, which has developed a home visiting program similar to the one here in Providence.

“In the same way that we say you should feed your child, brush their teeth, you should be stimulating their brain by talking, singing and reading to them,” said Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail...
Too Small to Fail is a program is “an initiative aimed at closing the word gap across the country,” Rich reports. As we once again praise Rich for this very helpful report, it might be time to think again about the late William Raspberry.

Raspberry was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the Washington Post. When he retired from the Post in 2005, he returned to his home town—Okolona, Mississippi!—to run a program called Baby Steps.

We first wrote about Baby Steps that very month. In part, the program was designed to help low-income parents learn that they should talk and read to their children, as with Too Small to Fail.

Raspberry had discussed Baby Steps in a column the month before. He started by describing a young mother who was thrilled by the progress she saw her baby making as she learned to “chatter” to him.

He then described the fuller sweep of the program:
RASPBERRY (11/7/05): Chattering isn't all that Baby Steps does, of course. The program, just over two years old, begins with the notion that much of what we describe as school failure is in fact the result of inadequate foundations laid at home. But it also assumes that parents love their children, want them to succeed and would do the things that promote school success, if they knew what those things were. We aim to teach them, well before the children enter school, and to have fun doing it. The program serves parents of children from birth to age 5.

So far (though there's no pre- or post-testing to prove it), parents in the program really do seem to be picking up the habits—talking and reading to their children, praising more and criticizing less, finding teaching opportunities in everything from a handed-down family story to a packet of flower seeds—that many middle-class parents take for granted. And they seem to take delight in each new step toward increased parental competence.

That doesn't surprise me. What does is the easy willingness of other people in my home town—parents, professionals, friends, family, ministers, merchants, educators and just plain folk—to join in the enterprise. Only a tiny handful are paid (and not very much); a few have their travel expenses reimbursed. But most are happy just to be involved with something positive for the town's children.
We mentioned Baby Steps in two other posts, wondering how the program was doing. But we never saw it mentioned again in the Post, or anywhere else, except in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Mississippi).

Those deserving kids just keep on coming. It’s a very rare day when a major newspaper goes to the heart of the education struggles they and their parents may face.

Our big newspapers don’t bother with that. They spend their time disinforming the public with their Standard Bogus Stories about the way American test scores are a mess. (In fact, test scores have never been as high as they are.)

Raspberry died in 2012; Baby Steps is still up and running. How much better Rich’s report would have been if she had added this point about Too Small to Fail:

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, black and Hispanic kids have shown large score gains in recent decades in both reading and math. Too Small to Fail is a national effort to keep that progress rolling.

Low-income kids have recorded large gains. But when will the public ever be told? When will people be allowed to take pride in the ongoing progress? To learn that their country’s improving?

Why won’t liberals talk about the large score gains those kids have recorded? The silence of the liberal world is one of the great disgraces—and an unflattering tell.

25 comments:

  1. Pardon the microaggression, but perhaps we should find a way of discouraging from having children those who are ignorant to even the most obvious information about raising them, and those who will have only one parent in the household available to talk to, teach, and discipline the child.

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    Replies
    1. We had one. You'll be disappointed, as I was, to learn that some activist, do-gooder judge intervened to spoil things. See Relf v Weinberger.

      Delete
    2. Involuntary or coerced sterilization is the only example of a policy change your pea brain could conceive of. How does someone get so stupid?

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    3. It took until 7:38 for the first Bobfan to show interest in this highly worthwhile topic.

      I suggest you call the course you are looking for "Applied Biology." There was another term for it in the thirties. It will come to mind soon I am sure.

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    4. 7:38 here is the link:

      http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007057

      Delete
    5. Are you talking about the efforts by enthusiastic progressives of the day to rid the country of certain undesirables such as the developmentally challenged? Fortunately religion was there to enlighten.

      To some degree anyway. Progressives still view killing a human being because he has downs syndrome as a morally neutral proposition, depending on where that human being lives at the time the killing is carried out.

      Delete
    6. Anonymous @ 9:06P,

      I don't know. How did you get so stupid to have missed the point?

      Delete
    7. You have yet to make a point about why people who are too incompetent to be parents shouldn't be discouraged from becoming parents.

      Delete
    8. Just because you don't understand the point doesn't mean it wasn't made.

      Delete
    9. Your point was people who are too ignorant and irresponsible fulfill the role of parent shouldn't be discouraged from becoming parents because genocide.

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    10. No. Try again, ignoramus.

      On second thought, don't bother. If you think genocide is the point, then you're hopeless.

      Delete
  2. How do you prevent a child from growing up as unempathetic as you apparently are?

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately for you, "racist" and "unempathetic" have lost the bite they once had. Not that they ever had much at all when used in place of argument. But they ring especially empty in light of the failures of your favored approaches.

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    2. Racist never had a bite for those to whom it was properly applied.

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    3. It used to have a bite for those to whom it wasn't properly applied, but no longer. A good development.

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    4. Oh, it still does for those to whom it isn't properly applied.
      So I guess you are not feeling the sting.

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    5. No, it doesn't.

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  3. The last two paragraphs are beautifully and accurately stated. It does beg the question- why aren't progressives touting this progress? Do any of the liberal critics of this site have an answer?

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  4. We all have to learn that the problem's our society is having occurs because we don't work to PREVENT them from happening. We are always trying to fix things after the horse is out of the barn. We should be educating our young people from junior high on, on what it takes to be a responsible parent. Many of our problems occur because many people go through life without thinking before they act. Therefore, children born out of wedlock, only one parent raising the child, etc.

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  5. I work a lot with low income parents and it's more than just "not talking".

    Perhaps contrary to what people might think, they're "strict" in the sense that they issue a lot of short directives to their children. There's no back and forth at all. They don't even look at the child's face to see the response to what is a three of four word command.

    This was true of my own mother, actually, where we were given a series of brief directives and she didn't invite a response at all, so I recognize the approach.

    This may be a rural thing, but boy, is it pronounced when you spend a lot of time with them and then compare to higher-income parents, who have this whole dialogue going. I think the "dialogue" notion with higher income parents has been parodied, and it is amusing "do you want to do X, Y, or Z?" but the fact is when you elicit a response like higher income parents do, you're talking more.

    I think it's much deeper, culturally, than counting words.

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    Replies
    1. This style of communication was explored By basil Bernstein in the UK and an American scholar who called the area where she did her research "Tracktown".

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  6. In the 1930's, LaGuardia was convinced that a lot of problems among poor people arose from lack of education and knowledge of how to raise kids. He was convinced that many young parents and grandparents had never really been taught about how to raise children. He wanted public housing to have "well baby care" on the premises, but Robert Moses budgeted the resources OUT so baby and child care centers were NOT built into public housing.

    I think LaGuardia was right.

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