stephanie jones

Getting Back to the Basics – Social Class and Poverty vs. Accountability

In anti-bias teaching, class-sensitive teaching, classism, economics and economies, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB, poverty, social class, Standing up for Kids on May 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

The State of Georgia is following the footsteps of other states (Florida being one of those) requiring potential applicants for welfare, foodstamps, etc. to pass a drug screening. If they test positive, they are denied benefits and recommended treatment – though not, of course, helped to pay for treatment. If they test negative, they may be allowed to receive meager state benefits to help feed and shelter themselves and their families.

Those struggling to make ends meet in our country are constantly subjected to much more scrutiny, and much more punitive situations than those who do not struggle economically. If this didn’t have lasting (negative) effects on people’s lives and dignities, I would call this a fascinating practice. It is fascinating – how those in a society with the least are also “given” the least and more heavily scrutinized…yes, fascinating.

And damaging.

And absolutely unethical and immoral and just plain wrong.

This is not only evident in “state benefits” such as food stamps, housing subsidies, etc., but this trend has been evident since the beginning of documenting educational practices. Working-class and poor kids are almost always perceived as coming in with “less” and then – shockingly – provided with “less” but under the conditions of greater scrutiny.

One example of this is the great piece from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective that has gone viral – there is no doubt that most of the kids “projected to fail” the state standardized test in Georgia will also coincidentally be from working-class or poor families. And will they fail? Well, everyone has projected them to do so, and if we know one thing in education it’s that the “self-fulfilling prophecy” is alive and well. Expect someone to be smart and you will see his or her smartness; expect someone to fail and you will see his or her failures.

Again – damaging, unethical, immoral, and just plain wrong.

Paul Thomas is a fabulous scholar and advocate for working-class and poor students and families – check out his latest post that can help us all point to “research” (in this era of accountability) about why we should be paying attention to social class and poverty rather than accountability measures such as “tests.”

When conversations spiral out of control – end of year Blitzes, testing bootcamps, expecting all “gifted” kids to score in the highest range of the test, etc. etc. – try to keep the conversation where it might make a difference:

How are our kids’ basic needs being met?

How is the state, county, school supporting families who are struggling to make ends meet?

What are we doing as educators to inspire creativity and deep connections with school for our most vulnerable students?

And who – based on our current practices – is always “privileged” and getting “more” out of school? And who is getting less?

Does the evidence point to an issue of classism in our school? County? State? Country?

What are we going to do to act in an anti-classist way?

Getting back to the basics can help us out of this daunting situation we find ourselves in and we can do that if we constantly work to change the conversation.

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