Harlem Renaissance DBQ Essay

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In “Harlem Renaissance,” Paul Tough discusses the importance of educating families in Harlem and he suggests that teaching better parenting techniques will stop the cycle of poverty for the children who live there. Tough discusses a program called “Baby College.” The three main points discussed are language introduction, the importance of a child staying in school, and punishment and discipline. First, Tough describes how reading to a child every night and speaking to them more often can greatly increase their ability to do well later in school. Second, Tough describes the long-lasting effects of a child in poverty doing less than adequate in school or even dropping out before they are able to graduate. Third, Tough describes the effects of using physical discipline rather than timeout or negotiation. (Tough 1-26).

Language introduction in the first three years of life was the largest factor in the difference between a low-income home and a high-income home. A study conducted in the 1980s showed that kids in the higher-income home were told 20 million additional words compared to the kids in the lower-income home. Also, the parents who were taught to read to their children more in Baby College recognized that their children would start reading on their own. As Rossi, one of the people being interviewed puts it, “I didn’t read that much when was younger. I watched a lot of TV. . . But if we read to him, he’s going to start reading by himself.” (Quoted by Tough 23). The other difference in language introduction was the type of words being said to the children in each type of home. While children in a higher-income home heard about 500,000 encouragements, children in a lower-income home only heard about 80,000 (Tough 9-23).

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Alongside language, children in lower-income households lack many other skills. It is assumed that training in technical skills is enough for kids in Harlem rather than staying in school and going to college. However, when they don’t focus on school or don’t care about it, they miss out on vital skills. They cannot communicate or do basically any simple math. They are not able to read and are not able to function socially and professionally in a workplace environment. Rather than focusing on programs meant for a dropout, the focus should be on getting students through high school to develop these skills outside of the home. The people of Harlem may not believe a diploma is important, but it helps them be more proficient in every other aspect of their life (Tough 10-11).

Discipline is one of the most difficult things to get parents to understand and want to listen to in Baby College. They are often set in the ways that they have seen in their own lives and the lives of those around them. If they have only seen one way to do something their entire lives that they assume works based on their experience, they don’t see any reason to change it. Even though the parents do not want to copy their parent’s discipline techniques, they do different things that are just as damaging to their children. One parent named Taisha discusses her mother who used to yell, and how Baby College has impacted her own parenting. Taisha says “But I was like, let’s try it the Baby College way . . . If their motives may not work, maybe I’ll put a little of my stuff in it. But it has been working.” (Quoted by Tough 17). One major point Baby College tries to make is that physical punishments are not effective, but negotiating with a child or putting them in timeout is. One Baby College instructor named Dominique tries to teach the parents that the children will start to pick up their bad discipline habits before they are even parents. They will start to behave the way their parents do with their own siblings, and this is discouraging enough for the parents to get them to at least try and listen to what Dominique is telling them (Tough 8-17).

Works Cited

  1. Tough, Paul. “Harlem Renaissance.” This American Life, www.thisamericanlife.org/364/going-big/act-one.                            
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