Friday, November 4, 2011

Poetry Friday: Talking to Kids about Money

Money is in the air. Not the physical stuff, but the concept.

While statistics are notoriously easy to manipulate, grouping U.S. Society into two wealth brackets -- 1% vs. 99% -- has caught hold of our collective imaginations. (Here's an interesting article on the topic, from 2007.)

This chart is from The World's Best Ever. Full disclosure, this is not an unbiased source.
How do we talk to children about the Occupy Wall Street protests, and why people are so upset? Kids realize -- of course -- that society feels unstable to many people right now. My 11-year-old was listening to NPR with me in the car, and began asking questions about the collapse of the housing markets.

I like using poetry as a jumping off point for these types of discussions. Sharing a poem, talking about what it might mean and exploring a child's reaction, provides a shoreline -- a safe place to begin when we're about to navigate a choppy conversation together.

This week, I've been reading Gary Soto's A Fire in My Hands. The poem "How Things Work" is simple enough that even young children  could begin thinking about the interplay between money and society.


Soto opens the poem with a note, "Our young daughter was always asking impossibly difficult questions. Where do the stars come from? Why is the world round? How come we sleep at night? I could answer some of the questions, and other I couldn't -- like the questions about the economy of our nation."

How Things Work
by Gary Soto


Today it’s going to cost us twenty dollars
To live. Five for a softball. Four for a book,
A handful of ones for coffee and two sweet rolls,
Bus fare, rosin for your mother’s violin.
We’re completing our task. The tip I left
For the waitress filters down
Like rain, wetting the new roots of a child
Perhaps, a belligerent cat that won’t let go
Of a balled sock until there’s chicken to eat.
As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces. 
Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

Like a poem, the economy is an elusive thing. There are many ways of looking at how capitalism affects the way we interact with others. Similar to reading a poem, the point is not necessarily finding a "right" answer. It is to begin the practice of looking.
Today's Poetry Friday host is Laura Salas at her new blog, Writing the World for Kids.

11 comments:

Diane Mayr said...

Similar to reading a poem, the point is not necessarily finding a "right" answer. It is to begin the practice of looking.

Amen! It sometimes seems that Americans find it easier to listen to a loudmouth rant than to take the time to look.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Diane. I'm working on a student anthology with another poet-in-the-schools. We've been talking about the practice of open-ended discussions in the classroom, and how necessary they are to counteract the right/wrong thinking of the standardized testing era. Maybe this is one of the things that makes people avoid the topic of money -- there is no bubble to fill in, there is not one right answer.

laurasalas said...

Oh, I love this! I don't know this Soto poem. My favorite line is:

If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.

Even our financial transactions are poetry.

Tabatha said...

Open-ended dialogue can be so valuable! My older daughter has been in a program with regular classroom discussions, and she has enjoyed them a lot. She found that in her program, which is full of talkative kids, they have great discussions, but when teachers try to get kids to talk in classes that are not part of her program, no one speaks up. This is teenagers I'm talking about, not elementary school kids. I expect all elementary classes can have great discussions. What a shame that some kids lose the willingness to talk.

Author Amok said...

Well said, Laura. The poetry of financial transactions -- that's what I love about this poem.

Tabatha -- as the parent of a teen, I know exactly what you're talking about. For many kids, there is a shutting down and turning off of their willingness to discuss ideas at school. A result of the push for testing/right & wrong? Not wanting to put yourself out there in front of peers? Sometimes I think super-quick thinkers jump in so fast that kids who process a bit more slowly, or take time in their thinking get left out of classroom discussions.

Joyce Ray said...

Soto's poem is a good example of how poetry can offer a "a shoreline -- a safe place to begin" discussions. And doesn't Soto acknowledge with the last two words of the poem that the system may not always work the way it's supposed to, that it can break down?

"A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess."

And then what do we do? Important stuff for kids to be discussing, I think.

Daisy Grant said...

Wow--this almost seems like a companion poem to the one I posted from a similar but different point on the same horizon! You and Gary remind me about how important the word "maybe" is in the classroom. It's a commonplace little word that allows unchartable possibility.

Author Amok said...

Joyce -- I love the implied question at the end of the poem. It's a subtle suggestion that the speaker doesn't necessarily "buy in."

Daisy, I am off to check out the poem you shared. Thanks for letting me know about it.

Mary Lee said...

I haven't tried to talk about Occupy Wall Street with my 4th graders, but our next social studies topic is economics, so I'm filing away this poem and thinking hard about how to talk to kids about money...

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hi, Laura--

Did you figure out that I posted accidentally as my 12-yo Daisy? We've been sharing a computer while hers needs repair. Sorry about that!

I've given myself a Poem-a-Day challenge this month and thinking about your post ended in this poem, which needs a little shining up, but which might go somewhere. Thanks for the inspiration.

Maybe,

but it’s hard to know for sure.

Maybe it should be one word,
or maybe it should be two.

Maybe the chicken came first,
or maybe it was the egg.

Maybe she’s telling the truth,
or maybe he’s the one who’s right,

or maybe they both are.
Maybe nobody’s right.

Maybe it’s five ordinary letters, a common little word,
or maybe it opens unchartable possibility.

Maybe.

Heidi Mordhorst 2011
all rights reserved

Author Amok said...

Heidi, thanks so much for the comment and for sharing this poem. I'm always amazed at the things (poems, observations, conversations) that open us into poems. I'm glad you found inspiration here.

I had not figured out the Daisy connection! Thanks for letting me know. Off to visit your blog for *realz*!