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May 2008 | Volume 65 | Number 8
Reshaping High Schools
In response to the April EL article "The Myth of the 'Culture of Poverty'":
I work with poor people nearly every day. They have more than their share of problems with drugs and alcohol, and they tend to be quite impoverished linguistically. Though their vernacular might be as sophisticated as Standard English, their vocabulary is quite limited as is their background reading. Low education and poverty are strongly correlated. Granted, none of the "myths" can be assumed to be true of any particular poor person, but to pretend there's no truth to them at all does nobody any good.
What Gorski is arguing has to do with causality. Do poor people cause their own poverty (because of laziness, personal weakness, or family deficiencies), or is poverty caused by social inequities? If we blame the victims, we are complicit in their poor educational outcomes. If we take steps to create more equitable systems, then we empower folks to attain their full capacity. We provide them hope, and give them reasons not to need drugs and alcohol to cope.
I'm an old Leftist. I've never believed in a single culture of poverty, but I don't know how you can deny the existence of multiple cultures of poverty. The problem with this political correctness is that it kills efforts to invest in confronting real social problems in school.
The deeper issue is not that the backgrounds of students in poverty hinder them. The biggest crime is the misperception by teachers that "these kids" just can't get it. It's all in the teaching. It's all in the expectations teachers hold for individuals in their classrooms.
One further question to chew on—and I don't know what to do about it—why is it that the culture of the wealthy neighborhoods (whatever it may be—vocabulary, dialect, or social customs) determines what is acceptable and must be learned by all? On the one hand, I understand the pragmatic and economic realities of who controls the wealth and makes the decisions. On the other hand, this knowledge is exactly what we neglect at our peril. In other words, do we forever teach the disadvantaged young some tricks of survival in a world where advantage is unfairly distributed—or do we teach how to oppose the unfairness?
In response to the April EL article "Closing the Teacher Quality Gap":
I have taught my entire career in high-poverty schools (by choice). Perhaps a better question might be, What can we do to support and learn from successful teachers already working in high-poverty/high-needs schools that will help us recruit and retain more like them?
In response to the April EL article "Whose Problem Is Poverty?":
Finally someone has research to justify what we who deal with the "at-risk" population have observed all along. Yes, teachers are doing heroic jobs in reaching desperate students, but as this article points out we educators are not the only ones involved, or the only ones that should be held accountable.
I totally agree. There is definitely a limitation to the amount of care and attention that educators can give to their students. I am not advocating that we shouldn't try, but we need to have a healthy dose of realism to know where the line needs to be drawn. Otherwise, we risk the potential of a burn-out and also neglect the needs of our loved ones.
I was not pleased to see that the face of poverty is a young black girl. I feel that the picture should have shown that poverty in America is not limited to African Americans. Many people don't read the articles they simply look at the picture and determine if this is something they should read. Poverty comes in all colors and exists in a variety of communities. Suppose a black girl looks at this? How will she feel about herself?
I think a black girl would look at this and think, yeah, this country still has a long way to go toward providing social justice for all people. It would be facetious and detrimentally politically correct to put a white face on the cover. I mean, talk about white guilt—we can't even have frank discussions about who poverty affects most without white-washing the issue.
In response to the April EL article "Where Have All My Students Gone?":
One of the solutions to the problem of mobility has to be the adoption of national content (not performance) standards and curriculum, so student mobility in elementary school is minimally disruptive to academic achievement.
To join the conversation, go to www.ascd.org/el or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are condensed for space or edited for clarity.
Copyright © 2008 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
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