I just finished an #Edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.
It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.
I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.
Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.
It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English-speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.
Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?
The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.
The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.
Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.
I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:
Whole Child Tenets
Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.
I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.
Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.
I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!