Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Boot in Your Ass, Sir

I cannot tell you who he is. I cannot tell you in what context he said this. What I can share with you is that he is a teacher, and he was speaking of his students. I can share with you the fact that he alluded to levels of impoverishment, that he suggested children from families he called “truly” impoverished, those who are victims of natural disasters, war, and famine are often the most thankful for the education provided them, take fullest advantage of resources, and, in many cases, go on to seek higher education. I can share with you the fact that the conversation after that got a bit ugly. I can share that he suggested that some “think” themselves poor and are not, that due to government help, they are not at all impoverished and that the children of these families often do not much more than just show up, that the parents are uninvolved, that much pressure is placed on teachers to work with these students when, really, it is the responsibility of the parent, that these families are often disinterested in the education provided them and are in most circumstances simply, well, let’s just say that he stopped short of "lazy." Needless to say, I felt moved to speak.

My response:

I would agree that there are levels of impoverishment, and that safety nets such as subsidized housing, food stamps, and medical benefits aid in helping to meet the physiological needs discussed. This, however, is where we part ways.

Not every impoverished child's family accepts such aid. Sometimes a child's family is too proud to take advantage of government resources, believes that those resources exist to serve families in true need. Such a child often shows up to school hungry, improperly dressed for the weather, and tired from inadequate sleep due to lack of heat in the home. She does so with perfect attendance because of her strong love of learning. She gets excellent grades, is asked, in fact, to skip a grade, and mentors peers who are struggling. That child's mother is room mother, Brownie leader, and positive adult role model to children who come from troubled homes. The child and her mother contribute heavily to the schools and the learning process despite multiple, unplanned moves due to landlords deciding to sell their rental properties. With each move the pattern of perfect attendance, peer mentoring, and the mother's volunteer efforts resumes and continues. You suggest guest speakers and field trips to get these children interested and involved, but this child sits home from field trips due to lack of money for the fee. She misses that learning opportunity which she so badly wants. She does it not because her parents are lazy or uninvolved, but because if there is no dinner, there is no field trip.

This little girl, despite being ridiculed by peers, looked down on by teachers, and knocked down repeatedly by forces beyond her control, namely poverty, hunger, and the stress that comes from constant moving and living in a stream of sketchy homes, will graduate high school just outside the top ten in her class. She will do so because of a mother who stressed to her what was right, what was positive, what was working, who built within her a sense of grit and determination. She will do so because of teachers who believed in her and showed her what was possible, who showed her what she COULD do, rather than what she could not. She will continue on to college despite not being able to apply for loans or grants, and despite the lack of funds for tuition. She will do so because of the generous gift of a community member who pays for her entire first year of study, enough to get her started while she earns the funds to pay for the rest of her education by herself. She will continue on through college and will eventually teach at the community college level, encouraging and inspiring those who find themselves in similar circumstance to which she, herself, grew up and endured. She will pride herself on her accomplishments and will believe the hard work behind her. She will begin to feel the fruits of her efforts despite the difficult hill she has climbed. She will do this until one day she finds herself in a doctoral program once again target of the ridicule she endured as a child.

Just a caution. Do NOT generalize, do not judge, and, even if a child's parents seem disinterested, do not assume the child is. Yes, this is my story. I am that little girl. My family never took aid despite the fact that I was often sick, hungry, cold, and nearly homeless. I loved school. I loved learning. Everything about my childhood worked against that love. Regardless, I am here, and only because of parents and teachers who believed in me, who encouraged me to focus on the positive, and who built in me a sense of strength, resiliency, and possibility.

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