Today, "G" was going around with a runny nose and leaving behind a slipstream of disruption. He's three, at the young end of our preschool class, and developmentally delayed. That means he has trouble following directions and focusing for long. In the classroom where he is the smallest of 17 kids, G takes up a disproportionate amount of space and attention.
He doesn't talk much, and when he does, he tends to repeat a phrase rather than speak in complete sentences. "Clifford dog, Clifford dog, Clifford dog," for example, cropped up several times in other contexts after I read the book, Clifford Visits His Family. When the teacher was asking the class about emotions being expressed in photos of children, he responded "Birthday cake, birthday cake," to a picture of a smiling girl holding balloons and wearing a party hat.
On the playground, he wasn't a menace, exactly, but a restless urgency crackled around him like an electrical field. And today, he wasn't the only one like that at the shelter. We had four or five acting out some level of distress all morning
I can't spend time with kids like G and let pass a comment I read this morning, posted to MN2020's Tuesday Talk by W.D. Hamm:
As for the majority of welfare recipients being truly needy, you didn't even touch on the families that are 3 and 4 generations on welfare, of course they don't live in your neighborhood so how could you be expected to know.
Generational welfare does exist, and it appears to be intractable. Some research indicates it hasn't diminished despite "welfare reforms" aimed at booting families off welfare and pushing them to work.
The implication from critics is that a "welfare state" has caused dependency, when I think the reality is more complex. More likely, child and family welfare has taken hold of an intractable problem and made life better for some people, but not others. Welfare's critics would pray/shame/cut this dependency away, although they have no evidence that their so-called reforms would work any better in the long run.
I'm sure some families hand down the message that public assistance is the way to get along in life. What child doesn't learn something from its parents? But a child inherits more than a bad attitude or a desire not to repeat past mistakes. These families also have low incomes, poor education and work histories, physical and mental disabilities, dysfunction and drug use that would exist whether they were on or off welfare.
And the kids asked for none of it.
A kid like G is starting out behind, in ways I can only begin to comprehend. Spending time in a shelter at public expense may someday make him more likely to be on welfare himself. It may teach him tricks that allow him to work the system later. But his time in our preschool and our work on his individual learning plan might also make a difference. We don't know for sure in his individual case.
So we can try. Or we can flush him now.
If you've held him and wiped his nose and helped him get his arm untwisted from his shirt, it's hard to turn your back. If you've seen him come up with Birthday cake! when there's no cake in the picture, it's hard to say his cognitive abilities make him hopeless.
It's so simple to "cut costs" and "reform the system" if you've never been in the system or worked with the people who are using it to get themselves out of a terrible hole. It's so easy to judge peering through your blinds. It's painless to dismiss the invisible G—at least for the one doing the dismissing.
W.D. Hamm lives in a rural area east of Grand Rapids, so I wonder how he's acquired his knowledge of how the welfare system works and who is using it. But he makes a point I agree with—you can't know much if you don't know the people you're stereotyping.
Unless you know kids like G and care about where they are in 20 years, how are you going to reform anything?