Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

Inequalities in Real World Experiences

By Peter DeWitt — July 28, 2011 2 min read

When I taught elementary school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., we used to take a field trip every year to Hahn’s Farm. First graders love to go to a farm to see cows, pigs, chickens and other animals. They also learn where some of their food comes from, and it provides a great way for students to learn about proper nutrition. Unfortunately, many children lack real life experiences, which is why schools offer field trips to bring kids out of the classroom and into the real world.

There are great inequalities between those students who have real life experiences that take them to new and engaging places compared to those students who cannot afford those enriching experiences. I realized how drastic the inequalities of experience were when I went to Hahn’s Farm the first time. It was only a 15 minute bus ride outside of Poughkeepsie, but for some of my students, it may have well been across the country.

One of my students, Shantel (pseudonym), had never been to a farm before, and she found out rather quickly where milk came from. Unfortunately for her, it was at the same time that a baby calf was nursing from her mother. Shantel began to cry because she did not know that milk came from a cow. She thought that milk came from a carton or bottle.

The moment continued to get worse because Farmer Hahn dropped grain in a pig’s bowl and asked my students what foods were made from grain. Some of my students yelled out pizza, bread and cereal. Other kids had no idea what food was made from grain, and Shantel once again got upset because she was concerned that her daily diet included the same food as a pig’s. I realized that many of my students thought food came from the grocery store, not from a farm.

Many of us have seen students who lacked real life experiences. It creates an issue for them when they take tests that are biased towards students who have the benefit of travel and exposure to the outside world. What happens to all of our students who lack experiences as simple as going to a farm 10 minutes away from their home? How can those students understand the outside world when, too often, they don’t get a chance to participate in it? Many of those same students do not have the benefit of a distance learning classroom to transform them into a virtual world where they can see other cultures and learn different customs. They don’t even get a chance to escape their own school block.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see Jonathan Kozol speak for the second time. The first was at a fundraiser for my friend David’s non-profit homeless women’s shelter, and I had coffee with Jonathan and David on a Saturday night and drove Jonathan to and from his speaking engagement on Sunday. The second time was at the Save Our Schools Conference, and he spoke about how children in poor homes lack experiences compared to their wealthier peers, something those of us who have taught in poorer schools understand all too well.

Many of our students enter our school systems with a reading and vocabulary deficiency, but they also enter our schools with a lack of real life experiences which have a devastating effect on their educational progress. To take a very famous phrase from Jonathan Kozol, we must continue to move forward and do something about these savage inequalities. We cannot close, or even narrow, the achievement gap when our students lack real world experiences.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
BASE Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
Director of Information Technology
Montpelier, Vermont
Washington Central UUSD

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read