stephanie jones

Archive for the ‘poverty’ Category

Chicago Teachers Strike – Great Opportunity for Teaching Work

In class-sensitive teaching, classism, democracy, discourse, economics and economies, poverty, social class on September 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

One week after Labor Day, Chicago public school students get a front row seat to lessons in work, labor, unions, and the persistent struggle between workers and employers. The story is everywhere this morning – union teachers in Chicago are striking for the first time in 25 years.

Given the erosion of workers’ rights across the country, even in strongholds like Chicago and New York, it is imperative that workers stand strong and go public about struggles for working conditions and pay that provide respect, dignity, and a decent living. Who better than educators to teach us all a lesson about work?

Some of the big issues for Chicago teachers? 1) Teacher evaluation (working conditions – how we are evaluated matters); 2) Policies that take funding away from existing schools and give it to charter schools that are often for-profit (this is also about working conditions – how workplaces are funded/equipped appropriately or not).

If you decide to open up an inquiry about work, workers, labor, unions, strikes, etc. some questions you might consider:

Why were labor unions formed to begin with, and what were the working conditions that made them necessary?

Labor unions claim to protect the middle-class, in what ways might that be possible?

With global “labor” now available to many multinational corporations, some say that national labor unions aren’t enough. What might global labor unions look like in the future? What kinds of goals would these unions have for our global future in 10, 15, 20 years?

And some really important questions given the rhetoric of teacher strikes “hurting our children” – 

In what ways can unions, and even strikes, protect all of us from being further exploited by employers?

In what ways might unions, and even strikes, protect the “customers” (or clients, or students, or recipients of the services) of the organization or business?

Who benefits from workers unionizing and striking?

Who benefits from  non-union and anti-collective bargaining laws?

Some resources that might be helpful for teachers digging into this with students: has a pretty exhaustive database of union membership by state and sector

United States Department of Labor collects data on union membership – compare these stats to

Interested in basketball? Check out the NBA Players’ Union

Football fan? Check out the NFL Players Association

One of the strongest unions in the country is the United Federation of Teachers in New York City

Service workers have unions and continue to unionize – here’s one example

Trades have their unions too – check out the Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Service Technicians No. 72 in Atlanta of all “Right-to-Work” places!


Don’t forget the international contextminers are striking in South Africa where events have been deadly, Spanish miners are striking, and the London Olympics took place among threats of transit strikes and taxi strikes. And the Chinese factory workers who have been said to be willing to work for lower and lower wages under worse working conditions? They started striking last year.



The Most Important Education of our Time? The Servant Economy and Jeff Faux

In class-sensitive teaching, classism, corporations, economics and economies, politics, poverty, social action, social class on September 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I have posted before about the book The Servant Economy by Jeff Faux, but wanted to share this BookTV video with anyone out there who wants to watch it either in conjunction with reading his book or as some strange version of cliffnotes (warning – he doesn’t talk much about the details in the book, so the talk doesn’t “replace” reading in any way, but is interesting nonetheless).

Click here to watch the video

The overwhelming evidence that our country’s jobs are declining and that pay for jobs is stagnant at best and in a sharp downward trend at worst may be the most important education issue of our lifetime. I don’t mean, by the way, that we need “more education” so people can get “better jobs” – I mean, that we need a broad and deep economic education from K-12, into higher education, and in all communities so that we understand the consequences of income inequality and can envision our country’s dark future if we don’t demand something different.

This is not about political parties. Jeff Faux says this well in his talk, and I regularly say this to teaches and principals I work with (though I’m not sure they believe me). Both U.S. political parties have opened the floodgates for global trade, enacted policies bad for U.S. workers, and – this is important – both parties are owned by corporate interests. The last point is one Jeff takes on in his talk – instead of proposing several potential action items, he proposes one: get corporate money out of politics. He suggests that we do this by organizing locally and state-by-state to propose a constitutional amendment that would reform campaign finance.

This is about money. And for some reason, it seems to me, that “money” is left nearly entirely out of curricula at all levels beyond learning to “count” money and occasionally some word problems in mathematics. But money has literally become the engine running our political, social, and economic engines of our country. He (and it is mostly a He) who has money gets to influence the policies governing what our social and political futures will be.

How can we begin the critical conversation about money and influence in elementary, middle, high, and postsecondary school? In community non-profits? In doctor’s office waiting rooms? In unemployment lines? At the park, library, playground and schoolyard?

Let’s at least start talking about it – and if folks will either read or watch videos of some of the most prominent economic voices of our time to educate ourselves about economics and the economic reality we’re living right now, we will at least have some of the language necessary to open up the conversations. And then we can also ask ourselves why most of us have no idea how to think of such things and have such discussions, why social class and any economics education beyond the “basics” of exploitative capitalism are not a part of curricula, and what we’re going to do to change it for our own collective good.


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.

White Trash

In anti-bias teaching, class-sensitive teaching, classism, discourse, identity, language, poverty, social class, Standing up for Kids on January 19, 2012 at 3:39 am

I love this post and wanted it on my blog! Using the term white trash is as racist and classist as you can get. When I hear people use the term…and I regularly do…I ask, “what do you mean?” and when the response is, “oh, you know…” I push them: “No, I don’t know what that means. Tell me what it means…”

When we force people to be explicit about the code words and phrases they use to position themselves as better than others – to create hierarchies of value and worth – we force them to face the racist and classist inside them. And when we ask simple questions that get at the meanings of those code words and phrases, we mark ourselves as people who disagree with their view…and that is important work since they wouldn’t have said it in front of us if they didn’t think we had the same perspective as them to begin with.

Out with classism and the systemic dehumanizing of people with language! A person cannot be trash…what could be more harmful than calling someone this?


Cooperative Catalyst

A boy from New Orleans shows up a week and a half after Hurricane Katrina. Being one of only a handful of white kids at our school, he is a little edgy and approaches another white student cautiously.

“I’ve never been at a school with so many Hispanics,” he whispers.

“It’s Latino. Only the government uses Hispanic.”


“Yeah, and if I were you, I would tell everyone that you’re half-Mexican. It’s what I did. There’s a lot of really light Latinos out there, so people will believe you.”

“But I’m not.”

“Nobody knows that. Do you live with just your mom?”

He shakes his head affirmatively.

“Then say that your dad is Mexican. They’ll just thing that your a guero instead of a gringo. You don’t want people to think you’re white trash.”

“They use that term out here, too?” he asks with a look of shock.

His new…

View original post 473 more words

Occupy Wall Street…

In economics and economies, justice, politics, poverty on October 6, 2011 at 9:23 pm

20 days and counting…

It’s about time we start talking about “economic equality” in this country. Want to call it class warfare? Fine. 99 to 1 ain’t bad odds.

Great article and video from Democracy Now!


and more…talks from union leaders at the march.


I’d recommend clicking on all the videos posted on Democracy Now.

Including this one – criticizing CNN reporter for diminishing the protest and using sarcasm to infantilize protestors. Nice one, CNN, as if thousands of people across the country engaging in “occupy wall street” isn’t enough to say that massive amounts of people are sick of the greed, sick of the poverty, sick of the joblessness, and sick of the top 1% of our population living extreme-luxury lives on the backs of working people. Who cares if the “bank bailout” actually made money for taxpayers? This isn’t about abstract taxpayers – this is about people who can’t provide for themselves in the world’s wealthiest nation. As Naomi Klein says, “we have a crisis of distribution”  –  and yes, CNN, it is a crisis regardless of the way you might use trickery to fool individual protestors into feeling ignorant. This is exactly part of the ongoing problem – a long history of the winners in hyper/neoliberal capitalism convincing the majority of the population they are ignorant and should have no say in distribution.

Go protestors!

Expose them to big houses? Thinking about Upper Middle-Class Bling

In American Dream, anti-bias teaching, communities, discourse, economics and economies, Education Policy, environmental issues, family-school relations, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, poverty, social class on September 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Big houses, fancy sedans, downtown boutiques filled with expensive clothing and shoes, trendy restaurant spots with hard-to-pronounce specials.

Some educators believe that the way to “motivate” working-class or poor students is to expose them to the ways  upper-middle class and wealthy people live their lives. Just let them see what else is “out there,” expose them to the bling (my word, not theirs) acquired through high paychecks, inheritances, good credit loans, and inspired by materialism and consumerism. Bigger and fancier is better – name brand purses, the most expensive imported cars, designer shoes, houses large enough to provide shelter for five families.

I sympathize with people frustrated that children and youth often grow up and find limited opportunities to sustain themselves financially. But this idea of exposing children and youth from “lower income” neighborhoods to the materialistic bling of upper middle-class wealth is more than disturbing.

People suggesting this exposure are often the same folks who demonize mothers who find a way to buy the newest sneakers for their children, or share quick glances of mortification when they see adolescents with gold caps on their teeth, or laugh out loud when a completely rebuilt older American made car slides down the street with the shiny wheels turning and a hip-hop beat thumping from the speakers.

“That’s why those kids grow up and sell drugs,” some people might say, “because they see those sneakers, those gold teeth and chains, those hooped up cars around their neighborhood and they want that bling too.”

Really now?

So you’re telling me that a $100.00 pair of shoes will make a child envious enough to become a drug runner, but showing him a $500,000.00 house will inspire him to stay in school, make good grades, go to college – and act like you?

This is really what we’re talking about folks. Upper middle-class people that say and believe these things are convinced that their own lifestyles (often of opulence and tremendous waste and materialism, though of course not always) are simply better than others’ lives. They secretly – or not so secretly – think that the gold chains and teeth and cars and music and sneakers are ugly, gaudy (is that how you spell gaudy?), disgraceful, “ghetto,” “low-class,” and disgusting. In other words, “Low Brow Bling.”

But that the material goods they acquire and consume are “classy” – pretty, understated, classic, “tasteful,” etc. etc. etc. In other words, “Aspirational Bling.”

We really need to wake up here. Bling is Bling, and using materialistic bling as a lure for supposedly getting kids to stay in school and “be like us, instead of like those people in your community” is the most absurd, classist, self-absorbent, egotistical, naive, ignorant, clueless, contradictory thing I’ve heard of.

Kids will stay in school and engage themselves when they feel like they belong, when they are valued, when they are treated with dignity and respect, when they are given some choice and power over their school experiences, and when they are motivated and inspired by the work they do there.

It’s as simple as that.

No bling required.

In fact, all that upper middle-class bling might just offend and alienate the very students some are trying to inspire and make them work extra hard to get away from anyone who represents it.

I haven’t even gotten to the unsustainability of persistent consumption of bling in the upper classes…but think about this: What if every family in North America had a 3,000 square foot home that required increasing amounts of energy to heat, cool, and water? What if every family in North America bought the newest, fanciest imported car from Europe? And on and on and on….you can see where I’m going with this.

Using one “class’s” Bling as a lure because it is positioned as infinitely better than the working-class or poor community’s Bling is simply unethical.

Encouraging more and more consumption of bigger and costlier things is simply wrong-headed and short-minded.

We have to really think long and hard about what it is we hope children and youth get out of our school systems – and surely it’s more than hoping they are envious enough to become like someone else, or motivated enough to work harder and harder so they can buy bigger and more things.

The American Dream – if there ever was one or ever can be one – must be about more than making yourself like someone else and aiming to buy  “classier” Bling.

“Time to Tax the Rich” says one of the world’s richest men

In democracy, discourse, government, institutions, justice, politics, poverty on August 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Thanks to MV for passing this along – Warren Buffett has always gone out on limbs and here he goes again. He knows our country – especially our country’s politicians – has lost its way and fairly taxing the most wealthy is exactly what can lead us to the right path. In this article he tells of paying around 17% of his taxable income while many middle-class Americans pay up to 40% of their taxable incomes. Buffett calls it “coddling the rich” and I couldn’t agree more. Coddling those at the very top of our income earning ladder who have acquired the majority of the economic resources in our country makes us a country of extreme Haves and Have-Nots. Those who have abundance wealth enjoy more tax credits and access to powerful people while paying a much smaller overall income tax, and those who are on the bottom 90% of the wealth ladder pay higher taxes, get less from the government in terms of tax credits and safety nets, and end up barely being able to pay their bills and feed their families.

And what about “entitlements”? I have practiced a new response to all those people who tell me that “government entitlement programs must go” before we raise taxes on anyone:

1. Do you own a home? Are you paying a mortgage? Then you are part of (probably the nation’s largest) entitlement program – it’s called your mortgage interest tax credit and in many cases it earns you more per year than a family receives from the government in food stamps per year.

2. Are you, or do you know, someone who owns land registered as agricultural for tax purposes? Wooops. There’s another entitlement program.

3. Have you taken on any home improvement projects to lower energy costs and submitted those receipts for a tax credit? Hmmmm….

4. Do you send your child to private school and live in a state where there is a loophole for claiming that tuition as charitable contributions to an educational institution? There’s another.

5. And what about these entitlements: You are entitled to police security in your community; You are entitled to being protected by a fire department if you need them for any reason; You are entitled to drive and walk on public roads and sidewalks; You are entitled to free and public education from grades Kindergarten through 12. Want to get rid of those too?

We are not yet entitled to any of these things with dignity if we are poor or struggling in any way, but there sure is pride and dignity in receiving that mortgage interest tax credit/entitlement!

Thanks Warren – we need more of you and your fellow billionaires to speak out loudly and clearly.


Riots in London and Connections to U.S. Politics and “Society”

In American Dream, critical literacy, democracy, discourse, government, justice, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, poverty on August 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Hey all – thanks to a friend for sending this along. I have grown more impatient with the “These are your children, control them!” response from UK officials to the riots in London that resulted from a police officer killing a young man of color. UK officials are now considering the eviction of all families related to any accused in the riots. Great – so then the disenfranchised, angry, resentful collection of working-class and poor (mostly) immigrants will be homeless. This is a terrific solution! That should certainly prevent any future uprisings.

Is this an uprising? Or is it just a bunch of hoodlum adolescents expressing their greed and self-righteousness the way UK officials make them out to be?

It may be an uprising.

We weren’t surprised by the uprisings in the Middle East this year, but somehow people are less inclined to speak of “uprisings” in the “civilized, western” world including metropolitan London.

But this may just be an uprising.

Margaret Thatcher (the woman who spoke the words “There is no such thing as society” quoted at the bottom of this article in The Guardian) and her cronies including everyone involved in the Reagan era politics wanted “individuals” who were solely responsible for themselves and no one else – just as no one else would be responsible for those individuals – would be bound to consumerism and market fetishes and not worry about something so abstract as “society.”


This is a terrific article and a nice primer for folks not familiar with “neoliberal” policies of the last 30-40 years and their implications.


FABULOUS speech by Linda Darling-Hammond!

In democracy, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB, politics, poverty, prison, social action, social policy, teacher education resources on August 4, 2011 at 2:35 am

Thanks to JB for sending this via email…

From the Washington Post:

Posted at 07:30 PM ET, 08/01/2011

Darling-Hammond: The mess we are in

Stanford University Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond helped Barack Obama draft his educational plan when he was a presidential candidate, and advised him on education issues during the transition between Obama’s 2008 election and 2009 inauguration. Since then, she has opposed the standardized test-based school reform policies of the Obama administration. Her speech at last Saturday’s Save Our Schools March in Washington D.C. explains the extent of the trouble public education is in. Here it is.

Darling-Hammond directs the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. A former president of the American Educational Research Association, Darling-Hammond focuses her research, teaching, and policy work on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.

Darling-Hammond’s speech:

Many people are asking: Why are we here? We are here because we are committed to a strong public education system that works for ALL our children. We are here because we want to prepare children for the 21st century world they are entering, not for an endless series of multiple-choice tests that increasingly deflect us from our mission to teach them well. We are here to protest the policies that produce the increasingly segregated and underfunded schools so many of our children attend, and we are here to represent the parents, educators and community members who fight for educational opportunity for them against the odds every day.

We are here to say it is not acceptable for the wealthiest country in the world to be cutting millions of dollars from schools serving our neediest students; to be cutting teachers by the tens of thousands, to be eliminating art, music, PE, counselors, nurses, librarians, and libraries (where they weren’t already gone, as in California); to be increasing class sizes to 40 or 50 in Los Angeles and Detroit.

It is not acceptable to have schools in our cities and poor rural districts staffed by a revolving door of beginning and often untrained teachers, many of whom see this as charity work they do on the way to a real job. And it is not acceptable that the major emphasis of educational reform is on bubbling in Scantron test booklets, the results of which will be used to rank and sort schools and teachers, so that those at the bottom can be fired or closed – not so that we will invest the resources needed actually to provide good education in these schools.

We are here to challenge the aggressive neglect of our children. With 1 out of 4 living in poverty — far more than any other industrialized country (nearly double what it was 30 years ago); a more tattered safety net – more who are homeless, without health care, and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education, in which the top schools spend 10 times more than the lowest spending; we nonetheless have a defense budget larger than that of the next 20 countries combined and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country.

We have produced a larger and more costly prison system than any country in the world — we have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its inmates — populated primarily by high school dropouts on whom we would not spend $10,000 a year when they were in school, but we will spend more than $40,000 a year when they are in prison – a prison system that is now directly devouring the money we should be spending on education.

But our leaders do not talk about these things. They say there is no money for schools – and of poor children, they say: “Let them eat tests.”

And while many politicians talk of international test score comparisons, they rarely talk about what high-performing countries like Finland, Singapore, and Canada actually do: They ensure that all children have housing, health care, and food security. They fund their schools equitably. They invest in the highest-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and school leaders, completely at government expense. They organize their curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skills. And they test students rarely (in Finland, not at all) – and almost never with multiple-choice tests.

Many of the top-performing nations rely increasingly on assessments that include research projects, scientific investigation, and other intellectually challenging work – developed and scored by teachers – just as progressive educators here have been urging for years.

None of these countries uses test scores to rank and sort teachers – indeed the Singaporean minister of education made a point of noting at the recent international summit on teaching that they believe such a practice would be counterproductive – and none of them rank and punish schools – indeed several countries forbid this practice. They invest in their people and build schools’ capacity to educate all their students.

Meanwhile, our leaders advocate for teachers with little training – who will come and go quickly, without costing much money, without vesting in the pension system, and without raising questions about an increasingly prescriptive system of testing and teaching that lines the pockets of private entrepreneurs (who provide teacher-proofed materials deemed necessary because there are so many underprepared novices who leave before they learn to teach).

Our leaders seek to solve the problem of the poor by blaming the teachers and schools that seek to serve them, calling the deepeninglevels of poverty an ‘excuse,’ rewarding schools that keep out and push out the highest need students, and threatening those who work with new immigrant students still learning English and the growing number of those who are homeless, without health care and without food. Are there lower scores in under-resourced schools with high-need students? Fire the teachers and the principals. Close the schools. Don’t look for supports for their families and communities, equitable funding for their schools, or investments in professional learning. Don’t worry about the fact that the next schools are – as researchers have documented — likely to do no better. If the banks are failing, we should fire the tellers. [And whatever you do, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.]

But public education has a secret weapon: the members of communities and the profession like yourselves who are committed first and foremost to our children and who have the courage to speak out against injustice.

This takes considerable courage – of the kind that has caused each of you to be here today. Remember, as Robert F. Kennedy said:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

Thank you for each ripple of hope you create – for each and every time you do what is right for children. Thank you for your courage and your commitment. It is that courage and commitment that will, ultimately, bring our country to its senses and save our schools. Keep your hand on the plow. Hold on!

Why talking about social class matters…

In American Dream, classism, institutions, justice, poverty, professional development resources, social class on June 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm


This is why I write about working-class lives and lives lived in economic insecurity.

This is why I reveal so much about my life that others would work hard to hide.

This is why I revel in vulnerability so others can find their footing more confidently.

Listen closely.

You might miss it, because I nearly did and I’m always listening for these things.

There is a slight knock on my office door and a slightly built young woman with sweat beading on her face looks at me as if she is scared and nervous and small. I’m expecting her, a masters student who emailed to ask if she could meet with me about her program of study.

“Do you mind if I sit?” She walks uncomfortably into my office, looking at me with an expression that I can’t place.

“Of course not, please, sit down.”

“I’m here to get some details about my program. I began in the summer and want to finish by next summer.”

“Alright. Well that means you will definitely have to register for comps this semester so you can write in the spring.”

“Can I ask you a stupid question?” she asks, still sweating and not quite looking at me.

“Of course. No questions are stupid.”

“What are comps?”

“Comps is what we call our Comprehensive Exams that all masters students must pass before they graduate.”

I pause and smile.

“I had heard everyone talking about them, but I didn’t know what they were at all. Is it like a test?”

“You will receive five or so questions from which you will choose one to write about, then you will write a ten page paper in response to the question. It’s a good idea to start keeping notes and references now from your readings and courses so you have them nearby as you write, because we do expect that you will cite readings and course discussions to support your argument in the paper. When you turn it in, two faculty members will read it.”

“So it’s not a standardized test or something like that?”

“No, we want to know that you have learned something deeply in your program and can articulate that learning in relation to what it means to teach. It’s a take-home paper.” Smile.

Her face relaxes a bit and I think I know why she’s sweating and nervous. Comps are scary. Not knowing what the scary thing is is even scarier.

“Okay, great. So what have you taken so far?” I ask and pull out a grid to begin penciling in courses that meet requirements in our program as she reports the memorized course numbers and instructor names. When prompted, she describes a bit about the course so I can decide where it “fits” in the program of study. We talk about classes she can take in the spring and she wants to know if I am teaching a course.

“Yes, but it’s a doctoral seminar. “ Strange. I know I’ve never met this young woman, maybe she’s just asking to be nice or she’s heard about me before.

“You know, in my Thursday class we’re reading your book,” is that a redness in her face? “and I read it as an undergraduate and kept it and didn’t sell it back like most of my books and I have so many things underlined. But it’s really amazing that now I feel like I’m getting so many different things out of it and I’m underlining different things. I love your book.”

“Thank you. That’s really nice.”

“I mean, I kind of connected with what you were writing about in your life. I’m the first person to go to college in my family too.”


Of course.

Now the pieces are falling into place.

“And you know, as a junior when we were reading that book and I was surrounded by all these girls in my class who weren’t from families like mine at all, I always felt intimidated by them and I was afraid to speak up. But when we were discussing your book I was like raising my hand! I was telling everyone that I can talk about those things from firsthand experience!”

Smiles – and maybe redness in my face?

“It made me proud.”

“Thank you so much for telling me that – it’s exactly why books like this in school are so important, so people who have never felt quite comfortable in school settings can have a space where they feel privileged and valued. Thank you for sharing that, it makes me really happy that my book could do that for you.”

“It did! And when I found out you worked here I couldn’t believe it! I mean, I thought you were this amazing famous person because you wrote this kind of book.”

Ahhhh. Now the nervousness and sweating is becoming even clearer. She was afraid of meeting me!

“And that’s why I didn’t know what comps were. No one in my family has ever been to college, much less to graduate school, so I have never had a clue. I went to group advising, but I thought I could come here and ask you about comps.”

She talks about her freshman year and earning enough scholarship money to live in a dorm but spending most of her nights at home in a neighborhoing County with her family. By her sophomore year she was living full-time back home and in her junior year she found a roommate who was – very surprising to her! – from a poor family who was proud of their Goodwill shopping, coupon cutting, and figuring out how to eat with little or no money.

“I’ll probably never meet anyone like her again,” she tells me, “but it was perfect that we were roommates. We didn’t have to hide any more.”

Her body and her face transform and she is now a tall-sitting, confident, excited talking young woman who didn’t even resemble the person I had opened my door to.

“Now I’m married and we live in the same apartment that I had with my roommate, in fact, now I’m the resident manager so we only have to pay one-half the rent. We do everything we can to cut down our costs.”

She’s moving to another city next summer and she plans to get there plenty early enough to do community ethnographic work where she’ll be teaching well before school begins, “Just like in your book,” she tells me.

“I did so many of those things even in my student teaching. I did home visits and went to a Quincierita, and really listened and learned about my students’ experiences at home and with money and how I could make connections with them to make sure they felt proud of who they are. I just know that when I have my own classroom I can do even more.”

Our conversation lasted much longer than the 30 minutes I had scheduled it for and I knew my daughter was waiting impatiently for me at the YMCA to pick her up, but these are the moments I continue to revel in.

And marvel at.

When perfect strangers seek me out because of something I said about working-class families or poverty or first generation college students or just because they had been assigned my book.

As we ended our conversation she apologized four times, “I’m sorry I’ve kept you so long.”

“You’re gonna have to work on that you know. Not apologizing. You deserve to be here talking to me just as much as anyone else does. Don’t apologize…I enjoyed the conversation just as much as you did.”

We smile and I want to grab her and hug her and thank her and wish her all the best in her today and future.

But I’ve just met her.

And she was nervous and sweaty about meeting me.

I didn’t want to traumatize her again.

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