Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Number 1 problem for public education and growing: poverty

[The following article by Katha Pollitt, "It Takes a Village, Not a Tiger," appeared in the February 28, 2011 edition of The Nation.]

Are you a tiger mother, a soccer mom, a helicopter parent, an attachment mom, a permissive free spirit who just wants your child to be herself?


Your kids have a good chance of turning out reasonably well. Not because you are a parenting genius who has hit on the perfect method but because you have the time and energy and cultural capital to give your child what he needs to be successful in today’s world no matter what child-raising method you choose.

You are probably not, for example, poor, homeless, functionally illiterate, socially isolated, an addict, in prison, living in substandard housing, working three low-paid jobs—or unemployed for life.

You have books in your house, and probably a computer too.

You know enough to help your child with homework—and if not, you have the money or networks to find a tutor.

You feel comfortable volunteering at your child’s school, being in the PTA, calling the principal, going to parent-teacher conferences.

You can afford to take your child to the doctor and the dentist for regular care.

If your child should happen to get arrested, as quite a few do—if he’s caught with pot, say, or spray-paints graffiti, or jumps a turnstile—there’s a good chance that the charges can be made to go away, or at least not become part of his permanent record.

Your ex may have run off with your best friend, your apartment may be too small, you may hate your job—but you are still a white-collar, college-educated, middle-class person. And that makes all the difference for your children.

The biggest barrier to educational achievement today is not any of the things the media talk endlessly about: poorly prepared teachers, badly run schools, too many tests, low standards.

It’s child poverty—which, like poverty in general, has just dropped out of the discourse.

The Democrats don’t talk about it, except to wag the finger at deadbeat dads and teen moms, and the media don’t talk about it except in the context of crime or individual triumph. In fact, from the coverage you’d think our current crisis chiefly affected the middle classes—office managers, newly minted lawyers, college grads who have to move back in with their parents—when actually the unemployment rate for people with college degrees is 4.2 percent, which is where it was for all Americans before the recession.

By contrast, for those with only a high school diploma unemployment is 9.4 percent; for high school dropouts it’s 14.2 percent. And those figures measure only those actively looking for work, not the millions who’ve given up or have never held a job (some 16.5 percent of black men over 20). All those women pushed off welfare, called success stories because they got a job as a receptionist or a security guard or a clerk, with supposedly the hope of something better to come? Forget them.

Inconveniently, though, the poor and near poor, whom we don’t care about, come attached to children, for whom we supposedly have some concern. So how are the kids doing?

To read the entire essay click here.


Randy said...

I teach at a local community college. I also "guest lecture" at SMU -- a drastically different experience from the local community college. I cannot begin to list all the ways the students at the two campuses differ, but basically it all boils down to this: at SMU, the world is at the beck and call of helping the students succeed. The opportunities, the readiness of the students... the list is endless. At the community college, it is a struggle for so very many of the students. Some of them, literally, do not know how to put sentences together at college level. They juggle low-paying jobs, single motherhood... their "starting place" is so far behind the starting place of the SMU students.
Poverty - lack of resources - these really, really matter!

Anonymous said...

Wow. That kind of takes my breath away. Even though I already know (or should know) much of what it says. It's so well said it's still shocking.

It helps me keep in perspective my middle class concerns about which friends our children spend time with, whether they make that team, exactly how high their test scores will be, or where they may go to college. They’re already so far ahead of the game. Which, as a parent, makes me glad for them, but really sad for all the kids at the back of the pack.