Education Reformers: We cannot ignore poverty


No matter how much people try to ignore poverty’s influence on the education of our nation’s most vulnerable children, as a teacher, I am hit head on with its power each day.  Last night, a teacher told me that one of her students is now homeless because their family has been evicted from their home.  Immediately, I thought about how this would affect his learning.  Yes, we can provide a stable environment for him at school, but that does not change the fact that he is homeless.  Also, one of my students has a skirt that is too small, but it is the only uniform skirt she has.  She wears the skirt pulled up and unzipped on the side.  I have to buy her a skirt.  These are just two of the countless experiences of students growing up in impoverished urban communities.  These are situations that they were born into and cannot control.

Being a teacher has created a heavy heart in me that impacts how I feel about solving our nation’s failing public schools.   I feel compelled to purchase everything my scholars need.  However, on my teachers salary, I am faced with the reality that I cannot but everything that my students need no matter how much I want to.  I read this week that someone said that the problem is not just on failing public schools, but it is also on failing communities.  As a nation, we must do everything possible to eradicate poverty.  If we really want to reform public education, we must also charge our elected officials to create policies that create more sustainable communities.  We also have to charge communities to unite and become a voice that takes back their futures.  As teachers, administrators, central office personnel, and other staff, we must also speak out against this injustice.  That’s how we truly level the playing field.

There is talk around some new school reformers that poverty isn’t a factor.  Yes, in the “exceptions” poverty may not be a factor.  However, success for all should be a rule.  I am becoming more convinced that people who say that poverty is not a factor have the luxury of escaping poverty in their daily lives.  They do not have to live in it.  They do not have to frequent the social circles of those living in poverty.  It is easy for someone who does not live or truly interact with people living in poverty to say to someone living in poverty that they can “just get over it.”  People with this mentality encounter poverty on the surface level.  As education reformers, we have to dig deeper.

Poverty is at the root of our nation’s public school monstrosity.  Yes, we do need to transform how public schools operate, increase the rigor and academic performance of our nation’s schools, and attract and retain the best and brightest teachers in the classroom, among other internal school issues.  Nevertheless, we must simultaneously address poverty.  If we do not do this, we are doing our students and their families a disservice for we know that economic inequality is an injustice.  And I refuse to be silent about it.

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Two quotes from great men:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” -Martin Luther King, Jr

I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight. Malcolm X

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4 thoughts on “Education Reformers: We cannot ignore poverty

  1. Martin says:

    Excellent post Darla.

    I believe that poverty in our communities could be eradicated if only our policy makers agreed to invest in our most vulnerable communities.

    It seems like most of our government officials not only lack the humanity to fight poverty but also the long-term vision. Since providing adequate resources and tools to those who live in poverty is not charity but rather an investment in our society and economy as whole.

    This investment would help create happy, ambitious, and confident young adults that would allow us to be more competitive on the international stage. Instead, the lack of such investments creates desperation that leads to crime and puts a further strain on our society and economy.

    Would the Bush or Obama administration ever consider sending 100 troops into a battle and only arming 85 of them? So why do they allow this to happen in our communities?

    Darla, I love the quotes.

    • Darla Bunting says:

      Martin, you’re right. Or government is broken. I just wonder when will people begin to unite to create a force for the greater good?

  2. Torrey Trust says:

    Right now poverty and education go hand in hand in low-income communities. I’m still shocked that we’ve continued to reinforce segregation through housing projects and poor quality education which restricts individuals in these communities from ever escaping and being successful (http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/spring2011/Wilson.pdf).

    I think that education is the first step in dealing with poverty. However, I think education needs to be more well-rounded and provide physical and mental health supports so teachers don’t have to carry the burden of being a mother/coach/psychologist as well as trying to get the students to learn. Just a thought 🙂

    • Darla Bunting says:

      Torrey, you’re completely right! The poor are completely isolated and cities are changing in ways that create even more divides. I also agree, that education is the first step, and that we should be educating the whole child. Great points!

      Also, thanks for sharing the Wilson article. I can’t wait to read it!

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