Once upon a time, for staff development, I asked my school to read Ruby Payne’s Framework for Understanding Poverty. We were at a school that was not only underperforming, but had been for some time. Apparently there was some “golden age” that happened prior to my being there, but I can’t comment on it. When I arrived they were celebrating 12% proficient or advanced and getting out of IIUSP (some state mandate program). OY!
Needless to say, I pissed off upset just about everyone with this book. How dare I suggest that there were commonalities between people in poverty. Not ALL our students had these characteristics, etc. This is true. However, in their ire, they missed that a lot of what we were reading was TRUE and needed to be addressed. After all, we were dismissing poor academic performance based on their homelives, shouldn’t we at least look at the characteristics and get a feel for why? Not only why they underperformed but also WHY we excused them. Needless to say, we never did use this as an outreach to parents, despite meeting other schools that did.
That said, there were some VIF (visiting international fellow) teachers from South America who had incredibly valuable input on poverty in America. Luis Velasquez pointed out that poverty in America still looks like a good thing. We didn’t understand that poverty in Mexico and South America meant no running water indoors, no plumbing, and certainly no electricity. It probably also meant little food (we have free and reduced lunch and breakfast in the states), and certainly little food variety. Basically he pointed out that any immigrant coming to America and living in “poverty” here was richer than in their native country. He felt we were too arrogant to note that. He was right, of course.
I was reminded of this when I read this blog on Open Salon. Again, it’s worth reading because we forget that, no matter what, we are really truly blessed to have been born in the United States. We have lives that are truly enviable to many others in the world.
Then again, we are Americans, we always downward compare! 🙂 As in, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” This was on my grandparent’s wall. Nothing says appreciate what you have more than this.