Sunday, March 27, 2011

“Poverty is No Excuse” vs. Whole Child Education

It’s like were arguing right past each other. 

The “Poverty is No Excuse” crowd seems to argue that every child can achieve; every child can achieve at high levels; every child can be college and career ready when they graduate from high school.  When they hear, “What about poverty?  What about violent neighborhood?  What about children who are mal-nourished and come to school hungry every day?” they think that the ones raising these questions are looking for the okay to quit trying.  They seem to think that teachers who are concern with the emotional, social, and physical health of children are actually making excuses as to why our neediest schools are failing to graduate college-ready kids.

On the other hand, when I (as a member of the Whole Child camp) hear, “Poverty is No Excuse” I start thinking that the ones who are saying this are tragically uninformed with the realities of many of the children I teach in Oakland. 

I think that they are unconcerned that one of my students was shot and wounded this year, and missed a month of school while he healed. 

I think that they are unconcerned that one of my students ran away from home and was living on the street doing who-knows-what to survive on her own.

I think that they are deaf to the cries of “I’m hungry,” from my students who show up each and every day wearing the exact same pants, shirt, and hoodie.

What if these two camps could become allies?  Crazy thinking in our overly polarized world today, I know, but let’s dream for a minute…

What if the “Poverty is No Excuse” camp really meant, “We, as a community will not let poverty get in the way of our children’s healthy growth”?  What if they were concerned about getting job investment into the ghetto?  What if they were invested in getting local governments to provide extra services to communities that need extra support?  What if they were committed to healthy school lunches (and healthy school breakfasts and healthy school suppers as well)?

What if we looked at communities and school in our neediest cities that were defying the statistics and helping their children to succeed, identifying the support that were helping them, and finding ways to get those same supports in our communities?

Perhaps these two camps can beat their political swords into political plow shears and take some time to envision a community of success.  What kinds of job investment; adult education; violence prevention; conflict mediation; social support; AND GREAT SCHOOLS would be imagine to exist in every community? 

Then we can work together to find a way to get from where we our to a better future.  


Anonymous said...

Yes poverty is not really a hindrance for a good education.. Just one need a drive and desire to achieve something.. I also came from a poor family but I made it.. To come to good universities and finish all my degree.....

Dave Orphal said...

I completely disagree with Anonymous's comments - I think poverty is a HUGE hindrance to a good education.

I think that Anonymous had some supports, both internal and external, that helped her/him achieve anyway.

These are the kinds of stories we should investigate deeply to discover what those supports were and if they are things we can use to help other children struggling in poverty.

JohnMatthew said...

Your right about these camps becoming allies or even spouting the same rhetoric--at heart.

In my, albeit limited, conversations with school leaders that are celebrated by Broad for their math/reading test scores achieved by poorer kids of color (the target group for so much narrowing curriculum), I am amazed at the wrap around services they've constructed--health, nutrition, financial assistance, etc. These schools also offer the arts and other so-called non-core subjects because they know that a good education isn't just math and reading.

Why wouldn't these two camps just yell 'yes you're right' to each other?

Dave Orphal said...

Hi John,

I think where these two camps disagree is waaayyy back at a fundamental issue: What does it mean to be well educated.

You see, folks who hate the high-stakes tests we have right now see in their own schools how curriculum and learning have narrowed because the tests scores are low.

It's not that I don't want to be held accountable for helping student learn, I disagree that a good score on these tests is a good definition of the concept, "well-educated." I write about a test, I would be happy to be held accountable to here...

Anonymous said...

My name is Angela, but since I don't have a Google account I will also show as Anonymous. I am currently writing a paper about how poverty affects education. I think the things you have said are right on - but what can we do? I am tired of talking about it and wishing it were different. I want to change it. I want kids to be innocent and care-free and for their only concern in the world to be how much homework they have to complete. Is there really no solution to this problem? Will I have to always feel sadness when I think of the kids who were never even given a chance to reach their potential? It is a priority to me that I teach students resilience and the fact that they have the ability to accomplish anything they want. I want to make every students life what it should be. Something within me says that there has to be a solution to this problem. I just can't find it.

Dave Orphal said...

I hear you Angela! Frankly, I worried about it getting worse. Last year I wrote a piece about advances in robotics, wondering what undereducated people will do for jobs when driving cabs and trucks, preparing food, building houses and building are being done primarily by machine... You can read that depressing post here:

In the near future, I think some of the best ideas are non-profits, for-profits and local governments teaming up to find business opportunities and jobs for impoverished neighborhoods. After that, I get stumped really fast!

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