For my course on Learning Disabilities, I had to read "The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3" (PDF). It made me angry! Here is a reaction paper I wrote for my course:
Before reading “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3,” I was somewhat familiar with the University of Chicago Thirty Million Words Initiative. As I read the article about the research that inspired this intervention, I found myself being critical and looking for flaws in the research. This initial attitude surprised me. I generally approach reading with an open mind. However, I think the negative title of the article may have impacted me.
Additionally, this sentence in the second paragraph rubbed me the wrong way: “In addition, our study included not just poor children from Turner House, but also a group of University of Kansas professors’ children against whom we could measure the Turner House children’s progress.” This sentence made me feel as though the researchers began their study with the assumption that poor children were deficient, and they cast wealthy white children with educated parents as the desirable group that the poor children should wish to become. The researchers also note the number of African-American families in their study, yet they do not mention the ethnic backgrounds of the other participants.
I fear that this article could be used to disparage families who are culturally different from the white middle/upper-classes that our society was built for. Hope is required for any intervention to be created and carried out. The authors paint a grim picture and offer no suggestions for improving the situation. If the gap in children’s language skills is so extreme based on the family in which they grew up, can any intervention be successful?
One particular quote in the article struck me as pessimistic: “Once children become independent and can speak for themselves, they gain access to more opportunities for experience. But the amount and diversity of children’s past experience influences which opportunities for experience they notice and choose.” These sentences seem to contradict any hope for children to grow as they age. The study also focused solely on language skills. Students from families that may not have had as varied or rich vocabulary may come to excel in math or science.
After writing this paper, I Googled "30 million word gap racist," to see what others had to say about the study. Here are a couple related posts:
"Debunking the 'Word Gap' "
"Toward Translating Success for Black and Brown Children"