>I was teaching a story in the school reading textbook. The teacher’s page, full of sidebars and notes, suggested teaching the time period of this historical fiction piece.
The Great Depression: Point out the date of the letter on page 25 (August 27, 1935). Explain that this story takes place during a period known as the Great Depression, when as many as one out of four working-age people were unemployed. Many families could not afford even basic necessities. The Great Depression lasted for more than ten years. It began in 1929 and ended in the early 1940s, during World War II.
The story follows a young girl sent to live with her uncle and aunt in a faraway city while her parents seek work. As I looked out on the class, I recognized an unfortunate level of understanding in their eyes.
“As many as one out of four working-age people were unemployed….” More than half my class qualifies for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch because their families have little or no income.
“Many families could not afford even basic necessities.” I’ve provided folders, crayons, pencils and more to at least one third of my class. Only half brought in the requested box of tissues to share with the class.
“The Great Depression lasted for more than ten years.” My students are nine and ten now. Will they struggle with their families throughout their education? Will they learn what they need to in order to make their lives better? Or will they end up working dead-end jobs right out of high school or, worse yet, drop out of school?
The idea of living with relatives isn’t a foreign concept to these kids. Several are doubled up with relatives because their parents couldn’t pay the rent on a place of their own. Some are barely making it and may be evicted. The list grows for our service club’s Adopt-a-Family project even as donations decline.
It’ll take a lot more than a few Box Tops to make things right for these kids. These are the very children who need more schooling, not less. More stability, not less. Yet they’re the ones suffering the most, and they’re the ones most likely to fall further and further behind.