This week on my facebook page for teaching, I posted an article about comments that Rep. Jack Kingston made in December of 2013. At the time, he was championing the idea that there was no such thing as a free lunch, and that students who are receiving free lunches should have to do some sort of school chore in exchange. Representative Kingston was defeated in his re-election bid, and is now an advisor for the Trump Administration.
Most teachers that follow me are fairly engaged in political discourse that revolves around edu-policy. I’ve worked hard to find them, and I am so glad to be ‘on the team’ with teachers who GET the problems we currently have in education.
Whenever someone shares an article from my page, I will get more eyeballs from other people who aren’t in my tribe. Sure enough…I had quite a few of those on this thread. Some of the more incendiary comments, I deleted, but most, I just left. The general sentiment was, why would I post an article that was so old? Am I just attempting to be partisan?
Well, let me answer that.
In a word, no.
We need to have real discussions on how we perceive students who are raised in poverty and how to build them up into the learners that they want to be. I think the bi-partisan fight about the nomination of Secretary DeVos shows that despite the fact that teachers were split during the general election, when it comes down to the children we teach, we’ll reach across the aisle. Discussing the ‘why’ behind policy shifts will be important as we frame what we as teachers think is TRULY best for students. The comments that Representative Kingston made are valuable because it underscores the philosophical fractures that exist between policy makers and teachers on the ground.
Here are some things that we roundly need to dismiss about students who are living in poverty:
1.) They don’t have grit.
They are coming from tough neighborhoods and situations every day. They are making choices for themselves daily that other children from more economically privileged homes won’t have to make for years. They are responsible in basic ways that have little to do with academics and much to do with life skills. We don’t need to come at them with school wide policies that allege that they aren’t hard working…or gritty. They are working…just not at what WE value. We have to tie their learning to the realities of the world around them in tangible ways. It forces us to be more creative–more student centered. It is harder, but not less valuable or worth it.
2.) Their parents are lazy or don’t care about their academics.
This is one that I have heard often. Parents are our advocates. Whether they are over-bearing and hyper vigilant….or they seem to never be able to be contacted, they are still a part of a trifecta of learning that is necessary to help our students grow. Parents are the best leverage that we have of keeping the consistency of the message we deliver in school. We must get better at communicating messages that parents can get behind. If a child is hearing the same thing at school, and also at home, it leaves them with the impression that there is no where else to go but the direction they are being told. Some of our parents, especially those living in poverty may have had an even more difficult time in school than their students. If their school system marginalized them, emphasized their economic or cultural standing as a reason for their inability to succeed, that’s going to make it harder for them to trust what’s happening with their own children. That’s going to make them reticent to go back to the place of their own difficulty. Those who do, are brave and I make sure that when they come, I remind them of the promise I see in their child and how I believe that their support–however they can give it–will be such a great help to me moving forward with them.
3.) Students living in poverty expect handouts.
Nope. Don’t buy that either. They don’t expect it…but have you ever heard the phrase ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’? If it is given to them, they will take it. Have honest discussions about the fact that the things they are getting cost money. Money that you don’t necessarily have, but you are willing to spend, so that they can have what they need. Have REAL conversations with them. They can take it. Trust me. They are wise to the nuances that are present in relationships and they can ‘get it’.
4.) Charter schools are better for students in poverty because students are more successful.
As Americans, the idea of ‘choice’ or ‘having our own way’ is a cornerstone of our thinking.
This is not Burger King, folks, we can NOT have it our own way.
Choice works for those who can access it. The choice to do better or be better should not be connected to access, but it is. It is left to chance. If you can get in, if you can get transportation, if you can make up the difference from the voucher…all of this is connected to economic privilege and access. We need to look carefully at who is getting a choice and then if the choice is really working.
Our job as educators is not to divorce our students from the realities of their upbringings. It is to augment their lives with skills that help them navigate beyond their own borders. They STILL need and MUST RETAIN the norms of their cultures and paradigms because they do not come home with us. They must be able to navigate their own neighborhoods safely, but learn how to move in other environments handily as well.
Teaching today in a global environment requires all of us: black, brown, yellow, red, purple….to expand our classroom experiences to meet the needs of the learners that we have. Those learners are not just a data point. They are people. When we are looking for solutions to helping the most at risk learners succeed, we need to make sure that policies don’t come rooted in bias. We need to make sure that we are talking to teachers who are actively engaged with diverse populations and looking at how we can truly support them, rather than demonize them with policies that double down on warped perspectives of students in poverty.