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Thursday, October 29, 2009


For twenty years, I have bundled up precious cargo, hopped into the car or walked through a neighborhood, and participated in the ancient ritual called Halloween. I have never objected to its horrific side. I just ignore it and enjoy the excitement children exhibit when faced with large amounts of free candy.

The first year I lived on a farm, I bought bags of candy and waited for Trick-or-Treaters to appear, as they had in my suburban hometown. What a letdown! Not one goblin showed up. People on farms have to make appointments or they will pass each other in their cars. There are side benefits, however. Grandmas and neighbors make up for fewer stops by giving large bags of homemade cookies as well as full-size candy bars.

My favorite Halloween was in 1989. I had moved back to my hometown with three children, two hundred dollars and a college education. While looking for a job, I was a substitute teacher in five school districts comprised of more than fifty schools. With traumatized children and anxious parents, I cried every day over the loss of a farm, friends and my previous job. It was hard to get up in the morning, and the days didn’t get any easier.

October 31 came and we went trick-or-treating in Grandma’s neighborhood, where I had grown up. A transformation had occurred in this quiet middle class section of town. Decorations abounded in the yards, including strings of Halloween lights. One neighbor dressed up like a witch and cackled at the children from the top half of a Dutch door as she dropped candy into their bags. The weather was so warm we didn’t even have to wear jackets, and leaves crunched under foot as we walked. Friends walked together and greeted each other as children eagerly ran up to doorbells and gave their personalized rendition of “Trick or Treat.” For the first time since my loss, I had a sense of community. The children had never gotten grocery bags full of candy before. Although they always missed their father on holidays, they were pretty happy with this turn of events.

The weather didn’t always cooperate on Halloween. In 1995, the weather was the worst I can ever remember. In a pouring rain with a wind chill reading of twenty-nine degrees, I let my youngest child (aged 12) talk me into circling two blocks. The following week, she was sick. I am glad I went, however. The following year she preferred a junior high party to trick or treating. Had I known it was my last trip, I would have enjoyed it more.

©Linda Wallin 1997

Sunday, October 25, 2009


In the last few years, my work in special education has led me to disabled children who live in poverty. While it was a rare occurrence even five or ten years ago, it is now much more common. I can't quote statistics on this, although I hope to do some study on this topic. I can only speak from personal experience. Last year, my class was small and the poverty level was high. I think only one of my students was NOT in poverty (out of five or six). This year, out of nine students, six of them were receiving free lunches. For those of you who don't know, the poverty level was calculated in the 1955 by calculating the yearly cost of food for an adult or child, omitting the purchase of meat, and multiplying by three (Ross, 2009). Thankfully, Congressmen Dodd and McDermitt have introduced legislation to bring the formula more in line with present-day realities.

I must confess I lived below the poverty line for a year when I became a single parent with three children. The lessons I learned have compelled me to speak out about this devastating hardship for children who have no platform to speak. As a parent and as a teacher, I see children who cannot develop their abilities to the fullest because they are held back by lack of day care options, medical options, and grocery limits. I teach children who do not know what to do with a Book Club book because no one has bought them one before. I see children who get excited about technology and can learn math, reading, graphics, writing, storytelling, and simple computer science concepts when they gain access to machines and programs appropriate for their abilities.

Recently Stephen Krashen, who writes about second-language acquisition, wrote about the relationship between poverty and achievement in his newsletter. He objected to the administration focus on higher standards. I concur. Higher standards will not provide better nutrition or more educational experiences for children whose parents may be working one or two jobs apiece. Higher standards will not allow children to spend more after-school time outside because they have adequate supervision. Higher standards will only create more paperwork for an overworked educational sector.

Those who use the phrase "throw money at a problem" are almost always trying to prevent spending. Yet if children come from homes where there are no books, educational toys, educational videos and outdoor activity, where are they going to get them? If they are learning another language in the process, they are under siege cognitively. Without the words to express what they see in the world, their power is limited and their needs ignored. President Obama overcame hardship in his childhood. Let’s hope he has not lost his compassion.

Ross, E. (2009, 10 23). Hutchinson News Online Edition. Retrieved 10 25, 2009, from The Hutchinson News: