At this point in my career, I feel more acquainted with poverty. I have come to terms with the fact that many of the problems in the lives of my students have their roots in poverty. These kids have learned to make do with little. Having an iPhone or video game system distracts them from the need their family faces. What they don't get yet is that when mom threatens to call the police on dad unless he gives her more money to buy drugs, poverty is an influential factor in that interaction. The drug use itself, the alcohol and physical abuse as well, can trace their roots back to the effects of poverty and its power to drive individuals towards negative coping strategies. The sexual abuse my student tells me about through tears only happened because her mother was forced to take in a friend to help pay the rent. The stories go on and on. Over the past few years trying to figure out the primary source of student trauma and the cycles of oppression they are trapped in, poverty seems to be the reoccurring culprit. I understand there is a plurality of factors that create a given moment, but poverty seems to be the biggest and underlying contributor. It doesn't just force parents to adopt sub-par parenting strategies (working two jobs to make rent, forcing them to leave their child unsupervised at home) but also drives parents to cope with the stress in negative ways, which leads to further trauma.
I sat down with one of our district's educational leaders to talk about this problem. She was the first one in my three years of teaching that voiced what James Herndon articulates as "separating the sheep from the goats." This quote was meant to describe the function of school as a sorting mechanism for what individuals go in to service industries and those that go into professional industries.
I want my students to be credible people in society. I don't think that will happen through welfare, but through developing a complex way of thinking about and perceiving their world. This is why an education that gets kids woke is the key to a healthier and more life-giving society. You can slap a chunk of change in someone's bank account, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are no longer impoverished. Poverty, while a material phenomena, is also a mental state. There is an impoverished mindset that instructs individuals on how to think about money and how to use it. One example is the renting dilemma. I talk to my kids regularly about the difference between renting and owning a home. Rent doesn't build any capital. There is no investment in renting. Instead of building wealth that can be used to build more and provide stability, renters are building someone else's wealth. For the demographic I work with, renting is the normal reality. My kids grow up believing that they too will only rent just like their parents.
More material is necessary, but if we just think impoverished families need more money to escape their poverty, we are missing the bigger picture. They need a critical consciousness that know what to do with money, which is why school is the solution.