A lot has been said in our recent readings concerning the connection between socio-economic status (SES) and literacy development. While this is a connection that in hindsight seems obvious, I cannot hold it against the authors for pointing it out in the first place. Yes, it has been proven that higher SES students have greater access to books, have parents who read to them, and have access to other means of literacy as opposed to low SES students, but I guess from my own experience this tended to always be the case.
Growing up, I would have been considered a low SES student from middle school onward. While my parents were readers and our house was overflowing with books, compared to my peers we were on the lower-end of the spectrum. The schools I attended tended to favor more of the affluent neighborhoods in our city, and since both of my schools had reputations for academics that attracted even more high SES students due to our district’s open enrollment policy. Now maybe I was the exception in that case, but as I was a B-A student in a class of predominantly AP students, one does start to see the connection.
This connection between SES and literacy development did not really hit home for me until I was doing my internship-level of student teaching in my undergraduate. I was assigned to Dakota Valley Middle School, which primarily served the town of Dakota Dunes—a town made by all the rich people who worked across the South Dakota-Iowa border in Sioux City but decided to live in South Dakota due to it not having any state income tax. Now while this case of rich people building their own town isn’t completely unheard of, the fact that the school also served as the school for the local rural communities as well. From day one of my time of working with seventh and eighth graders I could see the MASSIVE disparity between the two levels.
Now in terms of how this affected their literacy development, one striking example that stands to mind was the literature circles the seventh graders were placed in for class. While the groups were composed by reading level, I distinctly remember that the students in the reading groups doing more complex books like The Hobbit and The Diary of Anne Frank were predominantly high SES students while those in the lower-end group reading The Outsiders and Treasure Island were low SES. I remember asking my mentor teacher why this separation was occurring, and she told me that she had to break it down by reading ability in order to be fair, but even she acknowledged the disparity as simply a fact of life for teaching in that district. Now I am all for differentiated instruction, but this was a little ridiculous.
I know I may be making a lot of generalizations here, but since it has been proven—yes, I will say proven—that SES affects literacy development, can we please work on a way of getting past that?