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A Need or a Want?

My friend wrote this beautiful post about trying to explain why some people are homeless.  Her daughter asked her one day, "Mommy, why are there homeless people?"  I think most of us would have trouble answering that one.

My students were very familiar with homelessness.  I've told the story before about our unit on city wildlife - by the definition in the unit, the kids decided that homeless people should be included.

There was another time, when the Junior Achievement program came to our classroom.  I love Junior Achievement - people from various careers in the community come to teach for a day.  I was teaching first grade at the time and wasn't really used to the school yet.  I was more used to it, though, than the woman who came.  She was coming from the prison system - she was some kind of administrator - and was excited to come teach first graders.  The first thing that tipped her off to the type of community she was in was when she asked where our tape player was.  I told her we didn't have one for the classroom and that I'd have to buy one but I didn't have the money at the moment.  She looked horrified and got one out of her car, telling me I could have it.

The curriculum that day was about the difference between needs and wants.  It started simply enough - she showed the kids photos and they had to say if what they saw was a need or a want.  It was pretty unanimous at first: "roller skates," a want.  "Food," a need. "Games," a want.  That's when we run into trouble.  The woman showed a picture of a house and a bunch of kids declared that it was a "want."  She was confused and said, "Oh, it could be a house or an apartment."  They said it wasn't a need.  It was a want.  She looked even more confused.  Finally one boy piped up.  "My uncle don't have no house and he still alive."  Another kid, "I used to be homeless.  You don't need no house to live."

This, of course, ruined the nice lady's lesson plan of food, air, and shelter being needs.  I looked at her to see if I needed to jump in and noticed that she had tears in her eyes.  She had never thought about the fact that kids might not have one of the things that she thought of as a basic need.  She told me later that she wished she could give more than the tape player.  I knew the feeling.

Three years ago: Louisiana


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