Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Reality Check: Poverty and Education
The connection between poverty and failure in our urban public schools needs to be placed in a community spotlight.
I was moved and challenged by two responses to a recent post on public education. What makes these words so important is that they come from teachers who understand the problem and observe, on a daily basis, the connection between poverty and poor performance in the classroom.
Here's what the teachers reported:
"My first year teaching public school I learned a difficult lesson about that very thing. One of my students was a 16-year-old girl who was raised by her mother. She had 3 sisters and 4 cousins, all younger. Her grades were average and she tried to sleep a lot in class. When I took the time to find out what was going on, I discovered that her mom worked two jobs while she took care of everything else. By the time she had made dinner, helped with bath time and got everyone else to bed, she was too tired to do her homework. I guess, what I saw in her case (which I suppose is true in many) is that students in poverty have many more things that weigh heavily on them that middle-class kids don't. When you're struggling just to stay fed and clothed, it puts your education lower on the list of priorities."
"Thank you for your comments on public education. I am a committed Christian educator teaching in a public school, and believe that my calling is to be right where I am - not separated and cloistered away from the world, but right in the middle of the circumstances that young people face each day. Sometimes I grow very discouraged - the political climate of education is stressing me out! We are charged with making all society's ills go away while parents frequently abdicate their role to educators. Other parents are unable to respond to the needs of their children because they are ill equipped to do so, being overly busy trying to make ends meet, to provide for their families. This past year, I had a young man who was more than just difficult... when I spoke to his mother, I found out that she was working 2 jobs just so they could have a place to live and food to eat - she did not have health care, and was desperate to know what she could do to support me and her son. My heart goes out to this dear woman. I made her son a special project, and we made progress. Nevertheless, this dear lady was in need - we must advocate for people such as this woman."
Many people who criticize public education simply don't understand what is going on inside our schools and in the neighborhoods surrounding them. Bad public policy affects our schools and the children who attend them. Possibly our apathy is the result of our lack of understanding about the connection between poverty and the challenges of public education today, especially in urban centers.
If we really want to understand, listening to our teachers may be a good place to start.
Any action taken to undermine poverty and its spread will also be a move toward improved public schools. There is a connection. We need more people exploring and understanding it.