Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Less Fortunate"

I received an email from a college student last night...no one I've ever met or heard of before. She asked me some questions for a paper she is writing. A couple of her questions stood out to me...

What are your thoughts about public schools and how they should focus their attention on less fortunate children?

I always shudder when I hear the term "less fortunate." I sensed that this young lady was attempting to understand how to best help children in low-income situations, so I explained to her my position on the "less fortunate." My answer to her question follows:

To be quite honest, I think that they [the schools] can't think of the kids as "less fortunate." I think the schools, the teachers, and the principals have to begin noticing what the kids *do* have to offer instead of focusing on the kids' deficits. I think teachers need to have high expectations of the kids. I think as they hold these high expectations, they also need to hold the kids accountable and expect the best. In our after-school program the kids often write sloppy or may not complete their homework to their best ability. They always comment, "It's ok. The teacher doesn't care if we do it like this." By not having high expectations, I think we set the kids up for failure later. That's not fair to the kids. I also think it's very important that the teachers get to know the kids and their families as much as possible. I think that teaching has to be more than a job. Although I am very much in favor of the public schools, I think Dallas is extremely segregated--racially and economically. I think this creates extremely inequitable situations that leave poor and minority children behind.

I also encouraged her to attend our Central Dallas Book Club on May 4. Jonathan Kozol's book is about the segregated schooling that exists all across our nation and explains that our schools are more segregated now than they were right after the civil rights movement. At the book club, there will also be a parent and a teenager on a panel who will talk about the schools in south and east Dallas. Anyone is welcome.

She also asked if I thought there should be more organizations providing educational programs for children in poverty. Of course I do! However, maybe more importantly, I think there needs to be more advocacy from organizations and individuals with and for parents, kids, and families in low-income neighborhoods. After-school programs are great. Education programs are great. I don't doubt that we will always need them. But in order to work toward long-term solutions instead of temporary fixes, we've got to listen to the people in the community and work with people in the community to advocate for a better system for children in low-income neighborhoods. Everyone at least deserves the opportunity for a quality education.
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