It was October 9, 2013, and I remember being overwhelmingly excited about hearing a lecture at Harvard University. It was the annual Jeanne S. Chall Lecture and Reception and the Lecture was entitled: Shifts in Practice to Promote Literacy Achievement in the Era of the Common Core State Standards. Being an ardent advocate for Common Core Reform in America, I was genuinely interested in discovering creative ways that I could help our students at The Scribe’s Institute’ Young Scribe’s Literacy Program (YSLP) thrive in a Common Core culture despite the many limitations and flaws in the Common Core curricula. The lecture was given by purported literacy expert Nell K. Duke, distinguished professor of literacy, language and culture at University of Michigan. Dr. Duke also earned both her Masters and Doctorate degrees from Harvard.
After reading her vitae I was convinced that she was going to give some valuable nuggets that would prove beneficial to strengthen our literacy program. For nearly an hour, I heard the word “poor” mentioned a couple of dozen times. Each time she mentioned the word poor the PowerPoint visual displayed Black and Latino primary-school aged children from the Detroit area. She had perfect rhythmic timing as she mentioned the word poor and then branded the psyche of the nearly 300 hundred public school educators in the room, mostly of whom were Caucasian. Dr. Duke’s lecture was arguably one of the most mind-numbing and useless messages I’ve ever heard on education and literacy in my life.
Worse yet, the focal point and theme of the entire message was based on the fact that there is a connection between poverty and low performance. Because of that, Dr. Duke believed that new methods to educate “the poor” must be employed as “the poor” seemed to have had different brain structures than children of middle class and wealthy families (the latter statement author’s own perception). I was appalled, but even far more concerned by how a distinguished university such as Harvard would sanction research concerning inner city poor children that was merely conjecture. Dr. Duke’s surveys did not include thousands of Detroit children but rather less than a dozen.
Her statistics did not include other regions or major cities in the United States, but only Detroit. Her study did not compare and contrast students of color against Caucasian students. Her study did not consider the extremely varying dimensions of education needs in immigrants, especially ESL students. Yet, her research landed her a spot at one of the most prestigious lectures of the year. My grave concern was that the educators who came to hear her lecture went back to their prospective schools and districts only to exacerbate the already multitudinous problems in their urban “poor” schools.
This time however, no one was to blame if the children didn’t learn or learned at an excruciatingly slow pace, because after all, they were poor and poor kids can’t learn. Even if they do, they have to learn differently than others because of widespread and readily available flawed research. This idea of poverty being an inherent limitation to learning is a myth. Poverty is not a learning disability. Yet in our American school system poverty not only determines policy but has historically been the barometer to predict progress and has served as the gauge to determine how much funding flows in and what gets cut off.
Strangely enough, from my experience I’ve noted in nearly every poor city with a high concentration of minorities, when education initiatives work very well and benefit the children the funding mysteriously gets revoked. However, in those same regions when the children are performing at extremely low rates and programs are offered to enable their dysfunction the funding flows at full speed. Is it possible that our American system of education thrives from “system dysfunction?” Consider this, medical professionals do not get paid unless you are sick or dying. Insurance companies do not pay doctors to keep you well or to prevent you from getting sick. Prevention doesn’t pay very well, dysfunction does.
Since this is true, it makes great sense “dollars and cents” why the education system places such an overemphasis on the poor and their seemingly sorrowful concerns. The objective is not to educate them beyond their poverty or to make them become self-sufficient, but to rather keep them in a debilitated state since it’s far more profitable to do so. This is a sad state of affairs. In some regards the poor, without the help of strong advocacy and new progressive legislation are doomed to be the pawns of a trillion dollar money laundering scheme that not only looks for dysfunction but will also create it to justify the means—MONEY.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics:
“In 2013, approximately 10.9 million school-age children 5 to 17 years old were in families living in poverty.1 Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten2 and extends through elementary and high school. Living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average rates of school completion.3”
While this statement may be truly stated it is NOT a statement of truth. It is a statement of statistics that has become a standard for educators who seek to find a way to force funding for their ineffective strategies while working with poor children. These kinds of statistics must be challenged because they are fundamentally wrong and grossly skewed. Worse yet, many educators accept them as truth and then create policies around them. More than not these policies limit the future of our children. The challenge to educators and advocates that care is to challenge the statistics and the data and confront the system. One such statistic claims:
Children that live below the poverty line are 1.3 times more likely to have developmental delays or learning disabilities than those who don’t live in poverty.
While poverty and dropouts are inextricably connected, the dropout rates are not necessarily connected to learning disabilities in any way. The dropout rates among the poor are far more linked to mere survival and the need for immediate gainful employment. Yet, the deception of these statistics would render all dropouts as being incapable of learning. Also, there is a direct connection to the inadequate educational training during the formative years amongst children in poor school districts that hinders achievement in high school. That correlation is more so what causes high dropout rates, not an inability to learn.
As I’ve argued in earlier blogs, our educational system is in dire need of repair. In order for us to begin that process we must deal with the root causes of the problem not the symptoms and aftereffects. The overemphasis on the poor has engendered low expectations amongst poor inner city students. Unfortunately, those low expectations have grown multiple new branches related to ominous statistics concerning the poor and incarceration, the poor and health, the poor and crime, and so on. The profiteers of the poor will probably not go away easily. However, having the knowledge of truth concerning the potentiality of the poor will over time help to reduce the suspicion around poor people with relation to low academic performance. In time, “challenging the system” will help to improve education amongst poor people.
Dr. Aaron Lewis 4/27/16
Statistic Source: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cce.asp