Rather by accident I have been confronted with several incidences in the past few days of the way things are stacked against the poor.We need poor people, of course. Nobody grows up wanting to work at low level, menial, poor paying jobs. There is as, I was told years ago by a social worker, money in poverty. We have huge systems designed to help the poor. Unfortunately, most of these systems do not seem to be designed to help them stop being poor.
Some people are born with strikes against them that have nothing to do with their intelligence, their work ethic or their morals. They are born poor, or they are born with some other barrier to success that they did not choose. It is, of course, possible in most cases to overcome these obstacles, but in order for that to happen you need to be lucky enough to have a few things fall in your favor. First, you have to have some early association with people who understand your plight and help you understand it does not have to be permanent, second you have to be given encouragement and resources to make your escape from poverty possible.
Unfortunately in recent times we have decided as a society to not only abandon the poor to their fate but to both engage in contempt for them because they are poor and become complicit in keeping them poor.
Cycles of poverty have to be broken by changing the way people view themselves and their possibilities. This is most efficiently achieved by education, and by education I do not just mean instruction in an academic discipline, I mean the relationship between the schools and the child. In my considerable experience teacher/student relationships have an enormous impact on student success, academic and otherwise. Relationships with students need to include some variety of mentoring. The poorer the child’s family is the more important this is. Yet, in America 16% of teachers leave non-poverty schools, 32% of teachers leave schools where most of the student live in poverty.
Education is only, of course, one of the bricks necessary to build a better future, albeit an important one. Understanding economics is also important and something we completely fail at providing for our population. No school that I know of requires consumer science for their students and those that do have such an offering actually are teaching what we used to call Home Economics. They need to be teaching about money management, how the economy works not how to bake cupcakes.
People who do not have much money often tend, when they get some, say at tax return time, spend it quickly because in their experience money leaves quickly. That means no down payment for a home or purchasing of savings bonds or savings of any kind. Who explained compound interest on savings to you? Not your teachers I am willing to bet. So we educate them poorly, stack the deck against them economically, look down on them, deny them opportunities and then shake our heads at how much of a drain they are on us.
Why doesn’t society understand that we are designating some people as disposable, often based on nothing more than their lack of family wealth?
Dr. Cookie Newsom is a retired teacher-professor. Contact her with comments at [email protected]