Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Excellence Myth & Poverty in America

Over at transformED, Dan Brown discusses the impact of poverty on over 46 million Americans.  Part of the problem is that it's hard to be poor in America.  And when poor people go to school, it's often hard for them to learn well.  And when students don't learn well, teachers get blamed.  Dan argues that the "No excuses" mantra about teachers doesn't really address the debilitating violence of poverty.

I think Dan has also picked up on the myth of excellence. It's the same ideology that produced "Waiting for Superman," as if teachers just worked hard enough, everything would change.

Although individual teacher excellence is important, we also should look at lateral relationships, or capacity, or what some call social capital. If our society can help cultivate each person's or community's social capital, then kids (and teachers) will show up at school well-rested, well-fed, feeling safe, curious and nurtured, and ready to learn.

Poverty diminishes social capital in that people have little influence over their environment/surroundings (i.e safe neighborhoods, stable networks, access to healthcare, libraries, food, etc). If you're a teacher, your social capital is diminished when policy decisions happen without you, when PD is done to you, and when your creativity and initiative are smothered by standardized testing or teacher-proof curricula.

It shouldn't be a crime to be poor in this country, but it is. And families and children (and teachers) are punished for their proximity to poverty.

1 comment:

  1. I was talking with a union lawyer about this concept of "capital." A trailer park in Berlin was destroyed by Irene. These folks lack the social/cultural/political capital to access or even comprehend what is happening to them. In other communities middle class people are navigating the system, the families in the trailer park are confused, and are starting to get preyed upon by unscrupulous operators. We going to try to get some legal talent on the ground, but this is an excellent illustration of your exposition of poverty.

    I love the statement of how teachers' social capital is diminished by top-down decision making. I may have to steal that.