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Students whose

actions dont meet


teachers expectations
might be operating
with a different fund
of knowledge.

Why Is That
Child So Rude?
ALEXANDER TRINITATOV/SHUTTERSTOCK

Beth Lindsay Templeton

hy is that child so
rude? Why does
that mother let her
daughter come
to school dressed
like that? Why doesnt he ever do his
homework? That child is so lazy that he
sleeps in class every day!
Over the course of my 30-year career,
Ive heard many comments like these
from teachers. Comments like these
often indicate a gap in our fund of
knowledgethose facts that seem like
common sense to us. We each have a
distinct fund of knowledge that draws
on what weve learned from life experiences as part of our particular family,
school, socioeconomic group, race or
ethnicity, age, gender, geographical
area, and religious affiliation.1 For
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example, people who have lived in a


particular community their entire lives
will have a different fund of knowledge
from newcomers. If someone says,
Turn at the intersection where the hospital used to be, a long-time resident
will know exactly where to turn, but a
newcomer will not.
Because we absorb our fund of
knowledge without conscious effort, we
assume that everyone thinks the way we
do. We assume that the solution that
will work for me will, of course, work
for you.
When we are raised in middle-class
homes, our fund of knowledge will be
different from that of people who live
in poverty. Our assumptions, drawn
from our own fund of knowledge, may
be inadequate for understanding our
students, especially those who live in
poverty.

Challenging Assumptions
Lets go back to the questions and statements at the beginning of this article
and consider the different funds of
knowledge that might be at work.

Why is that child so rude?


Tawanda has a hard time listening when
the teacher is presenting information.
No matter how many times the teacher
asks her to wait, Tawanda blurts out
questions or comments without raising
her hand. The teacher tries ignoring the
outbursts, but that just seems to make
the interruptions even more frequent
and loud. The teachers frustration
makes it hard for her to interact with
Tawanda.
Is Tawanda really rude? She may live
in an overcrowded household where
she learned that to be noticed, she has
to speak loud and interrupt. When she

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manifests this behavior in school, she


is simply doing what works for her at
home.
She is not being rude. Nor is she
a discipline problem. She does not
necessarily have a learning disability.
Tawandas fund of knowledge says that
when you have something to say in
a group of people, you say it as loud
as you can, even if someone else is
speaking.

have to stay there while your clothes


are in the washer and dryer so they
are not stolen. And then you have to
gather your clothes together and get
back home again. All the time and effort
needed for clean clothes may have a low
priority for a woman struggling daily to
keep a roof over her familys heads and
food on the table. She may not have
the time it takes to wash clothes, so her
children wear what is available.

Perhaps you have had to use a laundromat


on occasion to wash your clothes. If so, you
know how challenging that can be.
Two different funds of knowledge are
at work. One says that you wait your
turn to speak. The other says that to
get your needs met, youd better speak
up. The teachers challenge is to help
Tawanda learn other ways of interacting
in the classroom without putting down
behavior that helps her at home.
Why does that mother let her daughter
come to school dressed like that?
Jenny wore the same T-shirt and jeans
to school every day for a week. On
occasion, she wore the same outfit the
next week. Her favorite outfit was a
purple T-shirt with Minnie Mouse on
it and jeans that were an inch or two
too short. Her shoes slapped when she
walked because the sole of one shoe was
loose. Her hair was rarely brushed. Her
sockswhen she wore sockswere
mismatched.
Jennys clothes may be dirty or in
poor repair, but is her mother really
uncaring? Perhaps you have had to
use a laundromat on occasion to wash
your clothes. If so, you know how challenging that can be. You have to collect
all your dirty clothes and carry them to
the laundromatan especially difficult
task without a car. You have to have the
correct change and your detergent. You

One fund of knowledge says you


wear clean clothes that are in good
repair when you come to school. The
other says there are more important
things in life than clean clothesthings
like a home and food. Neither fund
of knowledge is better than the other.
They are just different. At least Jenny is
at school!
Why doesnt he do his homework?
Henry never has his homework but
always has an excuse. Sometimes he left
it at home. At other times, a kid tore
it up on the bus on the way to school.
Occasionally, Henry develops a bad
attitude about homework and tells the
teacher that doing homework is stupid
or a waste of time.
Henry may want to do his
assignment, but his home might be so
chaotic and noisy that theres no place
to think about or do schoolwork. In
addition, Henrys parents could work
multiple jobs or swing shifts and not
always be available to encourage and
help. Some students have to make sure
that younger siblings get something to
eat, others must work a part-time job
so the family has enough rent money,
and still others might be caring for an
ailing grandparent. Homework pales in

comparison to such needs.


One fund of knowledge says that
homework is important for school
success. The other says that some things
are more important than homework.
That child is so lazy. He sleeps
in class every day!
Raymond falls asleep every day in
class. He doesnt even try to be sly
about it. He just throws his head back
with his mouth open and sometimes
even snores. No matter how hard the
teacher tries to engage Raymond, he
falls asleep. When prodded to wake up,
Raymond just glares and sits with his
arms crossed over his chest. Another
teacher has talked with Raymond, and
he promises to stay awake in her class
because he really connects with the
teacher and enjoys the science lab days.
But when hes in class, his eyes slide
halfway closed, he starts to doze off and
then wakes up, and before long he falls
totally asleep.
Is Raymond really lazy? Raymonds
dad may get off work at midnight;
and because Raymond wants to spend
time with his father, he is awake late
into the night. Or perhaps his home or
neighborhood is so noisy that he cant
get a good nights rest. He may have
responsibilities for family that make it
difficult to get seven hours of sleep.
One fund of knowledge says that
children need a good nights sleep on
school nights. The other says that you
spend time together as parent and child
when you can. Or you live where you
can afford, even when the conditions
are unhealthy. Or you take care of
people in your life.
Responding to Differences
Realizing the differences in funds of
knowledge can help educators ford the
separation that socioeconomics can
place between teacher and student.
Simulations such as the one developed
by the Missouri Association for Community Action (www.communityaction
.org) can help educators understand
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4/3/13 8:33 PM

Raymonds dad
may get off work at
midnight, and because
Raymond wants to
spend time with his
father, he is awake
late into the night.

before the end of class. Another always


speaks in a soft voice to show that quiet
voices can be heard, too. The louder the
student speaks, the softer the teachers
voice becomes.
One teacher uses small groups. After
going over suitable ways to interact, she
lets the students practice their skills in
their groups. She commends behavior
thats appropriate to the classroom
without putting down behavior that
enables the child to survive at home.
Teachers can use compassion and
empathy as they help children improve
their appearance and hygiene. One
teacher helped children obtain clothes
that did not elicit teasing from classmates by keeping a lost-and-found
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sleep time. Other teachers allow students to stand up when they need to
stay awake. Some teachers direct the
entire class to stand up for stretching
or brain-activating exercises when
students energy seems to be flagging.
When one teacher discovered that a
student could not sleep at night because
of a noisy environment, she offered the
student earplugs. Another educator
realized that having nutritious snacks
helped a student stay awake.

box that any child could take clothes


from. (The teacher found some of the
clothes at a local thrift store.) Another
told a student that his child had outgrown an outfit and he thought the
outfit would look great on this pupil.
Students may not even know that their
clothing is a problem because they do
what is expected at home.
One school handled the homework
issue by providing homework assistance to students who arrived on early
buses or left on late buses during their

waiting time before or after school. One


teacher arrived early or stayed late to
help students with homework when
necessary.
Some schools build homework time
into the school schedule. Other schools
experiment with providing students
with technology that taps into childrens
natural curiosity so they discover new
ways to learn. Its counterproductive to
to allow a student who lives in poverty
to not complete the tasks expected of
all the students in the class. A teacher
needs to be creative to help the pupil
find ways that work for him or her.
Sleepy children cannot be good
learners. One school arranged for
certain children to have first period as

SFASPHOTOGRAPHIC/SHUTTERSTOCK

how different experiences affect students. The challenge then is figuring out
what to do to help students navigate a
world where expectations are different
from those they find at home. Teachers
Ive talked with have come up with a
variety of solutions.
For example, learning not to interrupt
or speak loudly is important for a childs
ongoing success in school. One teacher
handles this by asking students to write
comments on sticky notes and stick
them on the board for her to respond to

A New Perspective
In addition to those factors already
mentioned, children in poverty might
also face a lack of hygiene supplies or
other basic needs, frequent moves, and
substandard houses and neighborhoods.
Its important for teachers to be aware
of these possibilities before making
snap judgments about the reasons for
students actions. The concept of funds
of knowledge can open up worlds of
understanding when we are willing to
acknowledge that our funds of knowledge
are not the same as everyone elses.
Bringing teachers together in small
groups to brainstorm how different
experiences will affect their students
and then sharing ideas for helping is
extremely empowering for a faculty, and
it benefits students without turning
them into objects of scorn. It can be a
challenge and a delight for teachers and
students to find ways to connect and
form relationships so that all can learn
and benefit from one another. EL
1
Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C.
(2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. New York: Routledge.

Beth Lindsay Templeton (beth@oewo


.org) is founder and CEO of Our Eyes
Were Opened in Greenville, South Carolina. She is the author of Understanding
Poverty in the Classroom: Changing Perceptions for Student Success (Rowman
and Littlefield Education, 2011) and the
childrens book A Coat Named Mr. Spot
(Avendia, 2013).

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