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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 20 2012

Salsa-Ed: Getting To Kids Early

Occasionally, I make random, off-the-wall connections between totally disparate things, Most recently, I found a strange parallel between salsa dance lessons and early childhood education. Yesterday, I had the chance to go to a Salsa lesson in Jackson with a few of my fellow interns. Now, I am a huge fan of Latin dance, mostly because I’m a huge fan of Shakira (my friends know this is a major understatement). That said, I’m more inclined towards the tango, not that I can do it well myself.

Dancing- 1…2…3…

Anyway, I got a bit lost on my way to the dance studio, so I arrived 10 minutes late for the one-hour class. The instructor asked me whether I was familiar with the Salsa to which I replied that it “had been a while” (I had some exposure to it back in high school). I was a bit dismayed to see that my partner was taken by another guy, but the instructor told me to jump right and pointed me in the direction of the woman he was dancing with. Apparently they were continuously swapping partners every few minutes; however, I also think he didn’t want his feet stepped on anymore, but I digress…

Anyway, I quickly started dancing to the basic steps the class had been practicing. Well, let me rephrase, I attempted to do the basic step. For whatever reason, my prior knowledge conflicted with what he was demonstrating, so my mind was resistant to make a change. Being an education geek, I recalled studies, which claimed that science can be tough for students who are unable to put aside preconceived notions. Often, people have trouble putting aside what they think they know already to incorporate new information. A key tenet of effective science is being able to revise your hypotheses based on new discoveries but some struggle to do this because of how the human brain is wired. I definitely encountered this psychological hurdle.

Roughly 5 minutes later, I had gotten much better at the basic step (1-2-3, 1-2-3) when the instructor suddenly referenced some seemingly random move, and all the guys attempted to spin around on one foot. Clearly, I was confused by this sudden spinning and the instructor quickly called to me: “oh, you weren’t here when we went over the hook turn earlier.” Now, as I’m just getting caught up with the foundational steps, I’m blind-sided by an additional move that I apparently missed earlier. Didn’t I feel stupid! Now, I needed to A.) master the basic step in a shorter amount of time B.) master the new move without prior knowledge C.) deal with the social pressure of being “that guy” and D.) feel bad for holding everyone else back. Now I know how the new kids feels!

Now fortunately, even though I’ve lost a lot of rhythm since high school, I wasn’t the worst dancer in the class. However, I did struggle much more than I was used to! Due to this experience, I couldn’t help but draw connections to the predicament children face when they enter school unprepared for whatever reason (poverty, illness, homelessness, lack of access, etc.). Regardless of the child’s natural intelligence, some sort of transition pains are to be expected without the benefit of early education. The exposure gap between high and low-income families increasingly puts children at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to literacy and comprehensive of the curriculum. In fact, studies have shown that a gap of at least 30 million spoken words can have devastating long-term effects on low income children.

"857 students drop out of school every hour of every school day."

What becomes of a child who is sent unprepared to first grade or kindergarten? What becomes of the school? Unfortunately, we see more and more examples of what happens on a daily basis. Let’s focus less on building jails, and more on preparing our children to succeed in school. Intelligence is malleable and there are basic (salsa) steps to take that will collectively help lessen the burden on our schools and teachers. Promoting and implementing effective early childhood education will flip the trend of setting kids and their schools up to fail, which ultimately leads to teacher bashing, not to mention broken communities. C’mon folks, we can do better. Le’go.

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison” – Victor Hugo

One Response

  1. This new blogger hasn’t enabled comments yet, but I found her post very relevant to what I wrote about early childhood education. I didn’t realize TFA was doing (yet another) pilot but hopefully something good comes out of it. The link:


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