Tag Archives: poverty

Ignorant and Shameful: Avoiding the Truth and Blaming the Poor

My generally placid routine of spending part of Saturday morning breakfast catching up on blogs and articles was anything but placid this morning. I almost choked on my eggs. One article in particular stirred in me an anger that I am having difficulty stifling even as I write this.

It was Linda Darling-Hammond’s article in The Nation, “Why Is Congress Redlining Our Schools?” I started reading it before work on Friday, but didn’t finish until this morning. I knew from the first paragraph that it was going to be the kind of thing that would infuriate me and many others (boldface added by me):

Redlining was the once-common practice in which banks would draw a red line on a map—often along a natural barrier like a highway or river—to designate neighborhoods where they would not invest. Stigmatized and denied access to loans and other resources, redlined communities, populated by African-Americans and other people of color, often became places that lacked businesses, jobs, grocery stores and other services, and thus could not retain a thriving middle class. Redlining produced and reinforced a vicious cycle of decline for which residents themselves were typically blamed.

Immediately, my mind went to the question posed in the title: Why is Congress redlining our schools?

Even worse, embarrassingly and ashamedly so: Why is Congress redlining our kids?

Hammond writes about the new focus of the proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Under the new incarnation of the law, the lowest five percent performing schools in states would be targets for the punitive, misguided policies that do nothing to help students and teachers and everything to harm them, while simultaneously sweeping the actual issues under the rug:

In many states [the five percent] will represent a growing number of apartheid schools populated almost entirely by low-income African-American and Latino students in our increasingly race- and class-segregated system.

I try not to get political on my blog or Twitter, but this isn’t really about politics. It’s about human decency. And when I read the word “apartheid” to describe our schools, it makes me livid…and I can’t say I disagree with the characterization.

The poor families who, without the opportunity to be upwardly mobile and move to the suburbs (no jobs), will continue to send their children to schools that increasingly become unstable places in lives that are plagued by instability. Schools will be closed and reopened with new names. Teachers will be fired. Charter schools, despite claims to the contrary, will open and do no better than neighborhood schools (unless we count their extensive test prep as a barometer for success). Teachers will be further demoralized by being evaluated by scores on tests that are biased against the students who take them, be they special ed or English language learner cohorts. Students will continue to be test-taking robots who lack requisite skills “to compete in the global economy.”

Of course, the egomaniacs in charge don’t want to look in the mirror and question their policies. After all, how could they be wrong? Nothing will improve, and no one will accept the blame.

Educators will be told they’re petty, selfish, do-wrongers. Students will blindly accept their fate and perpetuate the poverty cycle. Politicians will continue to scream about the schools, ignorant to the divide between their highness and the commoners’ lowliness.

That’s truly the heart of the issue here. Schools are cast as the problems and solutions to all of our country’s ills. I’m no sociologist, but it seems pretty clear that the real issues, like pervasive and growing division between the haves and have-nots, are not the fault of the schools, nor will they be solved by the schools.


It’s a long drop from the top to the bottom. From the perch of elitism it is difficult to see clearly the squalor of poverty. The policymakers are so out of touch with what actually happens in a school – especially an inner-city one where 100 % of students are eligible for free lunch (and usually don’t eat a breakfast that consists of more than a 50-cent bag of chips) – that their “no excuses” mentality smacks more of intolerance and ignorance than it does of a desire to do right by our students. How can kids who aren’t read to, don’t play with educational toys, and don’t get proper nutrition be expected to perform well in an underfunded, unsupported school?

That so many of politicians blaspheme public schools and enroll their own children in private schools while running from criticism or questioning about why they do so is more evidence of their aloofness and hypocrisy.

If my tone seems angry, it should, because I am. I am not even thinking of this from my perspective as an educator and what the reauthorization of ESEA means for me. I am thinking more about the disconnect between the ideals of the American Dream and the actions of those who claim to want to uphold those ideals. Where this country was founded to be a nation, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it is becoming a nation of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires.

Yes, educators suffer for the policies in place, but no one suffers more than the laypeople who, because their pockets are not sufficiently deep, will never be acknowledged as important enough to have a voice in a democracy. (Irony, much?)

I’ve got an angry knot in my stomach, and you should, too. Something is seriously wrong with this picture. Now, what are we going to do about it?


New Learning and New Experiences

Being in New York City, my students are lucky to have many wonderful, world-famous cultural institutions within travel range via relatively inexpensive public transportation. Unfortunately, museum visits and the like are not usually worked into their families’ plans. When I request or book a trip, one of my main guiding considerations is whether the students will ever go to the place if we don’t go together.

That’s an argument I made when we went to a NY Liberty basketball game at Madison Square Garden and it was the rationale behind the fifth grade trip to the Liberty Science Center a couple of years ago. Trips can be as much about new experiences as they can be about learning.

Today, we are heading to a personal favorite of mine, the American Museum of Natural History. We’ll visit the Hall of Biodiversity to consider the balance of organisms that exist in nature. I expect the students will be enthralled by the models hanging on the wall, representing the range of life from the single-cell organisms to the highly complex ones. We will sit inside the rainforest diorama and look and listen. Students will sketch organisms within certain parameters and then label them (after all, we just did finish up our informational writing unit, so this is something of a celebration).

My hope is that they have fun getting into one of the world’s greatest classrooms. I’ll probably preach a little, too, and urge them to ask their parents to take them to a museum some time. If not, though, they’ll at least have our class trips.

Related: Trips Are For Teaching

What Must It Be Like?

Last night, my entire family and some friends came over for my first holiday party in my apartment, Matty Ray’s LatkeFest 2011. We dined on foods that were much loved when our grandmothers made them, and it was wonderful to have my grandfather leading all the prayers at age 85 (as he has done for as long as I can remember and for many years before that).

As I reflect this morning, I think of my students. Their families don’t have the money to hold such parties. They may not even have the space. Some of their grandparents are in different countries. Some of their siblings are, too.

I can’t imagine what that all must be like. Singing the prayers for lighting the candles last night, I thought about how lucky I am (despite whatever drama comes with the family). I am able to celebrate holidays comfortably with my family. We don’t need to worry about being able to afford gifts or decorations. We can plan to lavish the new babies that are arriving with attention, toys, and clothes. We can buy expensive cuts of meat without saving for months.

I am truly living on the opposite side of the tracks from my students, who can’t, at this moment, realistically expect any of these luxuries that I take for granted. It is hard for me to understand what that must be like and how their survival differs from my family’s thriving.

But I must try.

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Hanukkah 2011 by Jeffrey Ray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at photomatt7.files.wordpress.com.