Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ignoring poverty

Poverty is a problem.

You can't have an authentic and meaningful conversation about education without addressing poverty. One of the first things I learned in teacher college was that a child's basic needs must be met before learning can take place.

Anyone who has spent five seconds in a classroom trying to teach a child who has not had their basic needs met understands how the utter futility of such an exercise.

And yet, I am disheartened by how many so-called education reformers write poverty off with their no excuses mantra. I see poverty less as an excuse and more like an explanation for why some people have such difficulties navigating their lives.

Too often I hear the argument that some people choose to live in poverty. Let's pretend for a moment that some adults choose to live in poverty -- even if this was true, it's important to remember that no child ever chooses to live in poverty.

Some shrug at poverty and say that you can't help people that can't help themselves. I disagree. In fact, I believe we have public education and public health care because people sometimes have a hard time helping themselves. This is why the highest performing countries understand that excellence requires equity.

Let's also stop pretending that education can lift people out of poverty on its own. The best teachers can do a lot of really cool things but overcoming poverty is not one of them. Yes, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can't do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society. If we are not careful, we risk misinterpreting standardized test scores, and instead of waging war on poverty and inequity, we end up waging war on teachers and schools.

I'm not saying addressing poverty will be easy -- but I am saying that it will be worth it. After all, if we think addressing poverty is expensive, we should pay closer attention to how expensive ignoring it can be.

Ultimately, saying poverty is no excuse is to make excuses for doing nothing about poverty.

2 comments:

  1. Hi. I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I am only doing observation in schools right now, and I have already seen a lot of children who come from poverty. I cannot imagine how it will be when I am actually a teacher. You are right though. The issue should definitely be addressed instead of ignored. I believe it can only benefit the child, once they see someone actually cares for them.

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