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Chickens Coming Home to Roost
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When I was an elementary school teacher in the mid '70's, most of my friends were teachers, also, teaching in the same school complex (senior high schools with the feeder junior high schools and elementary schools) in a big inner city school district.

We came from middle class or working class backgrounds; several of us knew first-hand the experience of extreme financial poverty. What we could not fathom, because it was beyond our ken, was what it meant to be truly poor. I taught children who, even in 4th grade, had never been to a major grocery store, a department store nor had seen a white person face-to-face (let alone spoken to one). After school and on weekends they sat in their apartments and watched tv.

The children knew the names and show times of every television program and the actors and the plot lines, but had no words for human interaction except "mad" "glad" or "sad" as I found out when I read them Charlotte's Web and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and other children's classics.

We'd talk about what was happening in the story and how the children and the other characters felt. I'd teach them words like "hopeful" and "frustrated" and "excited" and they'd tell me about times they had felt that way, thus expanding their emotional and social world. Each weekend I'd take a few of them on a field trip. But the knowledge that my classroom was only one of thousands weighed on my spirit. How many other children were experiencing the poverty of being restricted to mad, glad and sad?

The office person where I work came across a new word and she asked me about it. She is just the age to be contemporary with the children I was teaching way back when. "What is this word, a-l-t-r-u-i-s-t-i-c?" she asked me. I showed her how to use the guide words in a printed dictionary (no one had ever taught her) and how to find the word; I showed her how to go to dictionary.com and find the word. She is so bright and quick it is a pleasure to teach her.

The research part was easy. It was the definition of altruistic that gave her pause for thought. "Selfless concern for another's welfare" was it possible? Teaching your children to mind so that they won't bother you? Was that a good example of altruism? We had a long conversation that eventually involved the entire office on the topic of Altruism: Is it Real? And what is it?

Well, one thing I can say. Real conversation *is* still possible.

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