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It’s not an ethnic thing, it’s a poverty thing

April 12, 2011

We all have those members of our own social, ethnic or subculture groups that somehow manage to make us cringe in our embarrassment for them.  Mexicans & Mexican-Americans may sheepishly laugh at the “nacos“; while African-Americans might laugh and roll their eyes at the “ghetto” folk;  Asians at the FOBs; and the white people at the PWTs,  notably “ethnic” groups, or maybe WASPs.  On some level, I wonder if our tendency to notice the flamboyance of certain people of “our kind” indicates a deeper embarrassment for ourselves as viewed through the eyes of another group. In any case, usually those people that tend to embarrass the collective “us” are people  a little poorer or less advantaged than “we” are, probably a little less clued in to the way the mainstream works, and perhaps less tapped into the fundamentals of the American Dream.  Sometimes we don’t understand the way they choose to dress, or priorities that aren’t clearly in line with our own.   I agree that it’s fun to laugh at a goofball mullet, the pink ostrich boots and turquoise jeans of a citified ranchero, or the gown-less evening strap or scary eye-liner-design of any number of women.  However, I also notice that other segments of the population are not quite so affectionate with the critical gaze.  Admittedly, it can be a little easier to deconstruct, and pretend to address the woes of our society when we classify people as “us” vs. “not us”, even if we don’t admit that that’s what we’re doing.  But at our nation’s core, aren’t we all “us”, as in “we, the people”, (despite our country’s  history that often has sought to belie that refrain)?

Hence, a slippery slope when we talk about the achievement gap between whites and non-whites.  The gap is marked by ethnicity more markedly and specifically as ethnicity itself corresponds to poverty.  And, well, people who don’t live in poverty have a tendency to feel uncomfortable with reminders of its existence. Here’s a little poorly-kept yet seldom-discussed secret: liberal and conservative, friend and foe alike have an unpleasant tendency to marginalize the folks they deem not like them.  Maybe not out of malice, but almost certainly out of ignorance.  How many of our policy-makers are really hanging out in the projects, sending their kids to school with poor kids, or otherwise getting a genuine sense of how the other half lives? Perhaps it’s easier to ignore the glaring poverty issue and start quoting heroes of the civil rights movement, insisting how children of all skin colors can and should learn, without acknowledging the fact that far too many children, particularly those of color, are growing up without vital resources that foster learning, success in school, and future success in mainstream society that school purportedly represents.  Or maybe it’s easier to blame groups such as “illegal aliens” for burdening us with low test scores in schools, along with a host of other societal ailments.  But really,  the achievement gap is a poverty gap and it always has been;  while we continue to line the golden pockets of groups such as McGraw Hill and other test manufacturers our least-advantaged kids are not much better off than they were before NCLB.

For example, in Colorado, we are seeing numbers of children in poverty climb more rapidly than in any other state.  The 2011 Kids Count report provides a detailed study with plenty of data for anyone who cares to take a look.   (Most of the figures used in the report come from federal and state demographics.) According to the report, 17% of the under-18 set in Colorado is living in poverty, 36% of those children are Black & 34% are Latino.  Ethnic proficiency differences on CSAP, our current standardized test, tend to correspond closely to income differences, in fact in almost every instance [see pages 53-56 of the PDF].  The study also suggests that only about 2%, or approximately 5000 children are from immigrant families who have been here for less than five years, which in reasonable circles might put into question the notion of hordes of invading border-crossers of the Latin-persuasion, reducing them to trickles. Apparently, poor kids, especially those of color, are worse off than ever as the recession continues to affect them and their families.  That might probably will translate to even lower test scores.  Meanwhile, our politicians at local, state and federal levels remain blithely fixed on use of punitive strategies in response to low school test scores, yammering on about how the status quo is unacceptable, while miserably failing to thoroughly question the validity of using the scores of these (remarkably-expensive and not-very-informative tests) to near exclusion of any other measure of schools’ worth in impoverished neighborhoods.  That’s even tackier than low-rise jeans with a high-rise G-string.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Middleman, M.Ed. permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:04 am

    Why is it that the research to support your claims about poverty gets buried? It’s out there. It exists. Yet it is ignored. The spokesmen for ed reform with little or distorted research behind their claims are the only people that get on MSNBC and CNN. Why is this, and what can be done to change this?

  2. April 12, 2011 9:21 am

    Notice that those who cry the loudest and most vehemently that race and class don’t matter, invariably are rich white males.

    Unfortunately the corporate media tends to listen to Whitney Tilson, Bill Gates, Eli Broad et al instead of Susan Ohanian, Dr. Stephen Krashen, Jonathan Kozol et al.

  3. April 12, 2011 10:25 am

    Notice, too, how the “status quo” as defined by low test scores is so unacceptable to them, but the status quo as defined by millions and millions of children living in crushing poverty isn’t. These people have hundreds of billions of dollars to spend, and they think it’s better spent on tests and trashing teachers than feeding and caring for hungry kids?! In a time when we’re laying off teachers, and making wrenching budget compromises, budgets for tests (and other ideological pets, like school vouchers in DC) remain untouched– even though there is NO. EVIDENCE. WHATSOEVER. that test-based school reform has worked. And even though anyone with two brain cells to rub together can figure out that, when forced to choose between instruction and assessment, INSTRUCTION should be the priority. (Especially since real assessment is embedded within that instruction, whereas this fill-in-the-bubble stuff doesn’t do anything for students and teachers.)

    These people are either willfully cruel or just plain stupid. Either way, they need to step aside, and let serious people work on these problems.

    There. I said it.
    Ugh. Stepping back. Still so mad about this though– children’s welfare should be our first priority, not beating up on them for circumstances beyond their control (but within ours).

    • Dan Middleman, M.Ed. permalink
      April 12, 2011 11:07 am

      Well said!

  4. mariasallee permalink*
    April 13, 2011 7:08 am

    Thanks all. I’m starting to feel like it is time to get aggressive about sharing this silent truth. In any case, I am more than fed up with pols from both sides of the aisle who preach about what “failing schools” really need without ever leaving the comfort of their cozy little worlds.

  5. Gary Gossett permalink
    April 13, 2011 8:42 am

    I am new to the world of blogging, so I hope my protocol is correct. As I read the articles and comments I could not help to wonder that if so many of us who are on the front lines everyday can see all the problems associated with standardized testing and NCLB, why aren’t our opinions and voices being heard? What do educators have to do to be respected as professional and have our opinions valued?

    • Stewardess permalink
      April 17, 2011 2:00 pm

      Gary, I wish I knew the answer. As an educator myself, I am angered when my opinion & evidence as a professional are ignored. Maybe we need more parents on our side. Proponents of vouchers seem to value the opinions of “customers” (what they call parents). However, this still doesn’t lead to teachers being respected as professionals.

  6. mariasallee permalink*
    April 18, 2011 4:36 pm

    Thanks for fielding that one, Stewardess! Nicely stated. Gary, we could say more, but sometimes it is exhausting to feel like we have to shout to be heard over the rhetoric. Thanks for reading and for questioning.

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