Subject to Debate by Katha Pollitt is a regular feature in The Nation, a weekly magazine that was offered to me for so little money that I could not resist subscribing. I honestly do not have the time to read it every week, so they tend to pile up–like a lot of my other mags. I try to keep reading material in the car, so I snagged a couple of Nations to toss in the back seat. Lucky for me, the one I picked up first contained this great article from the February 28th edition called It Takes A Village, Not a Tiger.
Pollitt is right on target when she identifies and clearly describes the REAL PROBLEM–“the biggest barrier to educational achievement today.” It’s simple. It’s CHILDHOOD POVERTY and all of the various consequences and spin-offs of this pernicious and pervasive situation, that afflicts far too many of our nation’s children—in both rural and urban families. It is an easy, important read–and you should. Pollitt qualifies and quantifies how this single issue may differentiate success and failure among our children.
In one of my very first blog posts from last November, I detailed a list of how childhood poverty plays out at school and in our classrooms. I prepared the list as part of a presentation I made two years ago for a state-sponsored conference on childhood poverty organized by Representative Terry Schooley. To ignore childhood poverty and its multiple and potentially devastating effects is to fail to attend to many of the most basic of human needs.
Some folks would say that this is a fine example of excuse-making. I would beg to differ. My teaching colleagues and I try very hard to keep this issue in perspective and to recognize the effects of childhood poverty for what they are—effects, results, consequences, products, outcomes. However, what this kind of systemic, situational, or familial poverty does to children and their families reverberates throughout our public schools. And, when you spend as much time as a classroom teacher does with other peoples’ children, you can immediately and repeatedly see the differences.
White-collar, college-educated, middle-class adults may have had little experience with truly impoverished children and families. Many teachers come face-to-face with the reality through the children with whom they may spend 6-7 hours every school day.
To my knowledge, my colleagues have never said or imagined that you cannot teach a poverty-stricken child—that our poorer students cannot learn. I have no idea where that idea originated. My own experience has been that I can and do teach anyone and everyone—I can move any child forward towards reasonable and appropriate social and academic goals. However, to pretend that poverty and its child-related outcomes will not impact the depth, breadth, and persistence of instruction and learning seems foolish. A hungry child, a homeless child, a child with little supervision, a child with no books or paper at home, a socially-isolated child—most of these children will experience school in a vastly different way than their better-off middle-class peers.
Wow. I just had a mini-revelation when I wrote that phrase: poverty-stricken. Remember the days when the media actually referred to impoverishment in this way? POVERTY-STRICKEN. Not so much any more. They are just the poor—to be pitied, maybe; to be dismissed, sometimes. And the subject of poverty is to be avoided—at all costs.
I would add—at great cost—to the most needy and vulnerable of our citizens—our children.