Reading about children in poverty and their educational experiences was very emotional for me. Not only, because it is just plain old SAD, but because, now that I have children and am working with children I just can’t imagine why everyone, especially politicians and wealthy people, do not do everything in their power to lift these children and / or their schools out of poverty. The inequity among schools is HUGE. My children’s public school has extra funding from a foundation in our wealthy small city that benefits all of the public schools in our district AND the PTA has about 150 THOUSAND dollars to fund extra programs, community events, and staff support. (Yes, you read that correctly, one hundred fifty thousand dollars – more than what 98% of Americans make in a year!) Doesn’t this seem incredibly immoral in comparison to the school in Jonathan Kozol’s book Fire in the Ashes?
Another reason I kept finding myself tearing up and having to put down the reading is memories kept surfacing of when our family was in situational poverty due to divorce. I was in fifth grade and remember that school felt like a refuge from my family troubles. I had wonderful teachers and had known most of the other students since preschool or kindergarten. (It’s no wonder I am Facebook friends with my home room teacher and about 3/4 of the students from that class!) We were so lucky to have friends who were our safety net! This experience taught me how difficult it is to recover from financial setbacks and the emotional toll. Life is actually MORE expensive when you do not have money. Our utilities were cut off at one point and there were reconnection fees. Groceries cannot be purchased in larger cheaper in-the-long-run sizes, because you only have money for-the-short-run. People also feel more free to judge how you spend your money. When I was in Jr. high my mom bought some “designer” jeans for me. I needed new clothes; she decided to splurge, especially because she recognized that socially it made a difference in our affluent neighborhood to have a couple of “in style” items. My mom’s friend, whom she had confided in about our situation, criticized my mother’s choice strongly and made her feel belittled and me self-conscious.
I actually made my best grades ever in those tough years in spite of it all. Looking back, I think it was partially because I felt like a lot of people were “examining” me, and I wanted to show them I was fine and having money did not matter. Luckily we always had food, lived in a very safe neighborhood, and had a great support system. This small taste of hardship, though I wish I hadn’t experienced it, does give me a better understanding of what poor students experience, and hopefully will make me a more compassionate teacher.