Which Is It? Or, The Chicken Or The Egg? Or, Stronger Than Dirt Or Milking The Turkey?
My side, the teacher's side, the side that includes Diane Ravitch, Stephen Krashen, Jon Stewart and actual teachers believe that poverty stifles kids. There has been tons of research going back decades that shows, consistently, that the socioeconomic status of the parents is predictive of how well/poorly a child will do in school. We know that child poverty is higher now than ever. We know that wealth disparity is wider now than since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. We also now know of health issues that are a result of living in poverty, and new studies about the effects of poverty on people's health keep making findings and getting published.
The other side, the side that includes Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Jonathan Alter, Stephen Colbert, NBC, The Huffington Post, University of Phoenix, Michael Bloomberg, The Fordham Institute, and other powerful people and organizations, believe that the only way out of poverty is with an education. There are no studies that support anything these jokers say. Nothing. They might tout a position paper, or working paper, but they can cite no peer reviewed studies that show firing a whole staff, closing a school, making the day/year longer, hiring fresh young TFA teachers, ending LIFO, allowing for more charter schools, vouchers, VAM ,or alternative routes to a license will do anything for kids. None. Zilch. Zip.
So, which is it? Can we educate those mired in generational poverty out of it? Or must we first address poverty, and most of what we want for those kids will then flow from that?
And this, I think, is the battle. It is the battle between these two ideas to deal with the fact that so many of our impoverished kids do poorly in school. That is the reason for all the talk of reform, right? Too many kids doing poorly on tests and/or dropping out. Right?
You might think that there is a debate because some are creating one. Don't let that fool you into thinking too hard about it. It ain't rocket science! There is no debate about what kids need. There is a debate about who will get what they need, and who won't. It's a very old debate. Very, very old. Tunisia tried to end debate this year, along with Egypt and Libya. America won't do it until our televisions die, I'm afraid.
Think about why a kid from the worst part of town does worse in school than a kid from the best part of town. Got it? Don't think about the one or two kids who make it out because they worked so hard, like Obama. Remember, the correlation is socioeconomic status of the parents--Barack's parents were college educated. My little Gerard, who was a student of mine my first year of teaching ever (and who is clearly stuck in my heart), was too skinny (malnourished), meek, quiet, frightened, hungry, never complained about one thing, ever, whose father was absent and mom in jail, is not going to lift himself out of poverty, even with an education--an education he is ill-prepared to receive, much less work toward. He's hungry! Never saw a book until Kindergarten! His teeth were rotten. I wanted to take him home with me, but I made him lunch everyday instead. There are millions of Gerards. Millions. Fucking millions! In America (fuck yeah!).
The reformers have heard of Occam's Razor, but that won't make them rich so they are trying to show that the simple obvious reason for poor kids doing poorly are actually very complicated. No. They are not complicated.
Go to Michelle Rhee's Facebook page and read the vitriol aimed at teachers for "failing" these kids. Read and witness your fellow Americans calling people lazy and stupid. They are disgusting. They discount poverty and claim folks can get out if they just try harder. Really?
All the problems we face today in America are due to greed and the preservation of power by those in power. Voting might work, but I fear something more drastic will have to happen before a poor person can expect treated like a fellow human.
The reformers always ask us what are some solutions. I have three simple things that will help and they all require taxing the rich at a rate much higher than today.
1. Universal health/dental care.
2. Free high quality early childhood education programs
3. Books, books, some books, books, libraries, librarians, books and some free books.
Each one of my suggestions has a common sense basis as well as a research basis. We know ill health and hurting teeth make learning hard, so give them healthcare. We know impoverished kids start school with a deficit compared to their more affluent peers and providing high quality early childhood education programs staffed by credentialed teachers will help make up for the deficits and prepare impoverished kids for school. Kids like books, especially when they get to pick them and keep them. Everyone should give away books all the time. Quit closing school libraries, idiots.
There have been folks who have complained about the vitriol coming from teachers. Yeah, shut up. There's more where that came from.