10 November 2010

apathy vs. empathy

Tonight, during class, I heard two different presentations about parenting of students of poverty. Specifically, parents in poverty deal with issues about which we, as middle-classers, have no idea. Have you ever thought about the fact that parents, as decision makers, have limited options for where they can live? These parents aren't any different than any other parents, other than they are not as able to provide for their students as other parents.

  • What if you only had about 10 places in town you could choose to live because those are the places that would provide assistance with your rent?

  • Would this affect your mindset on getting involved with your child at school?

  • If you had to take government assistance to put food on the table would that change how you saw the world around you?

  • Would that affect whether or not you wanted to go to the school and talk with people who might have as many as 10 more years of education than you do?

  • Would that intimidate you?

  • Would you care at all about whether your student got their homework done if all you could think about was where you were going to get your next fix of drugs? What about if you were working 2 or 3 jobs and needed your older students to take care of their younger siblings, would you care about whether the homework got done?

  • If you were going to lose your job for being late one more time (because you have to take public transportation since you can't afford a car) would you leave your child home alone until the baby-sitter got there?

  • Would any of these situations change the way your parent your kids?


I recognize these may seem extreme to those of us who live our lives in the middle-class. However, for those folks who live below the poverty line, these situations are the reality that they live with everyday. I think it's pretty easy to say "Well THEY shouldn't make those bad decisions" but this is like saying "Well, the government shouldn't borrow money from China." The problem with that is that's just not realistic. I mean what other choice do we have when we need to borrow money? About the same amount of options poverty parents have when the electric company is about to shut of the lights, you are down to one more bottle of formula with no WIC coupons left, and payday isn't scheduled for another week. You go down to the ACE Check Cashing place and write a hot check (much like the government does with China).

As you may have heard me say before (if not, I'll say it in my next blog post), "We can talk all day about the problem, but in the end, what are we going to do about it? 'Cause bitching and moaning about the problem will only go so far. In the end, we have to DO something and stop just talking." Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs says that students must have the basic needs met before they can even begin to focus on learning. I think the same is true of the parents. We have to help meet their needs.

I recently taught a class at SNU in which I asked the class the question: "Who should be responsible for those people who are not prepared after a Natural Disaster happens?" I don't think that question is very much different than the situation these parents deal with every day. So, I would hazard that many people would say that we should do away with government programs that support people of poverty should be done away with because "we simply can't afford it". I say this because I hear about it when Kevin Ogle lets the viewers speak on The Rant and living here in Conservative Oklahoma, that's the prevalent attitude.

There is a strong resentment that there is a (perceived?) redistribution of wealth and some of "us" are working hard while most of "them" are sitting around enjoying the day. By "them" do you mean the mom with 5 kids who works 2 jobs to support them and still gets welfare to help put food on the table? What? She ought not to be having that many kids? Maybe her reality was that she struggled/struggles with her self-worth and therefore her sexual identity comes from the decisions she made while being intimate with multiple sex partners. This is her reality.

Maybe you think she should have gotten abortions? But wait! Conservatives are against abortion! Oh, abstinence? Why don't you come spend a day in MY classroom and listen to teenagers reality and then talk to me about abstinence. I'm sure they will be happy to listen to what is being said.

Yes, this has been a soapbox. I'm sorry. But when I see students coming to a teacher's classroom to get peanut butter crackers at lunch because they don't have money to buy lunch, it tends to put things into perspective. It tends to change the way I think about what's going on in my students lives. It tends to make me realize that my problems pale in comparison to the reality of my student's family life and all the (expletive deleted) they have to deal with every day.

So, what should we do about it? We need to keep funding programs that support, both financially and nutritionally, people who find themselves in poverty. We need to have some compassion for those around us in need. We need to look beyond "what people are getting from the government" and try to find out "why they need to take from the government". If the taxpayers shouldn't be responsible to help these folks, then who? (This is the question I asked in class about the uninsured/underinsured after a natural disaster). I think many would say "the Church/Charities". Okay, so what specific things do you see being done? What ever happened to that adage of "teach a man to fish feed him for life". Aren't we simply putting band-aids on a gushing wound by simply feeding people? What are we doing to actually get them out of poverty? What are we really doing to break the cycle of poverty?

Do your students know you care? Do you ever wonder why "that student" has so many bad days? What's going on behind the scenes? It may seem like I'm preaching or griping, but in reality I'm talking to myself, too. I hope, as teachers, we take our jobs seriously. I hope we think about more than just testing. I hope if we are teaching we are there because we care about students and aren't just trying to "have summers off". As I tell students: "If you aren't serious about learning, I'd rather you just not be here. Why don't you leave?" I think the same applies to teachers. We'll go out and get some folks who can have a burden for student learning to replace you.

Sometimes, I really need a reality check for what students are going through and that's what this is. I hope it helped you get a reality check, too. If you were offended by this post, I'm sorry you were offended, but I'm not sorry I wrote it. I'm learning to look beyond my own reality and this is the result of what I see now everyday.

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