River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 28 2013

To Fight Poverty and Beyond

Last week, I finally returned to blogging after half of year of internet slumber. To be truthful, I haven’t lost track of the arguments on all sides, I simply choose to take a step back from the daily vitriol. Nonetheless, I’m a bit disheartened by the increasingly narrow focus on the interests of adults- either for TFA leaders on the one hand or for displaced teachers on the other hand. Let’s bring it back to the children. There are too many young boys across this great nation living in adverse conditions that will forever color their brain chemistry and life path. Yes, I get that some magical charter school or  Tic-Tac-Toe array of super teachers may help “transform” kid’s trajectory; however, let’s not all fixate on this idea of “transformational change” for the sake of transformational change. After all, just because Superman is skilled enough to catch falling citizens doesn’t make it okay for Lex Luthor to throw innocent people off the rooftop of the Daily Planet.

“Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” – Toni Morrison

Bringing it back the children, a good friend of mine recently participated in a HuffPost Live conversation about the role of geography in poverty and the lack of upward mobility for many of America’s children. I highly recommend checking out the accompanying article from the New York Times and this follow up blog that digs deeper in the complex issue of race. Relatedly, I also suggest looking into Opportunity Nation’s Opportunity Index, which helps put some context on the various economic, educational and community factors affecting upward mobility.

Ultimately, any educational reform needs to attack the “opportunity gap” more than the “achievement gap.” It’s not enough for students to get high test scores if we’re not also taking into consideration the social-emotional and civic needs of all children. Fortunately, there are initiatives that promote such needs as highlighted in Paul Tough’s recent book, Grit, but we need to go beyond piece meal solutions. As Jarell said:

“It’s not just teaching these academic skills…we have to get that right…but we also have to teach these hard-working values.”

My students in Mississippi had the among the lowest chance (3%) of upward mobility in the nation. That’s absurd! Poverty is poison and the deep south compounds this toxic stress due to some of the following:

  1. Concentrated, intergenerational poverty (often, due to the legacy of slavery)
  2. Lack of exposure to academic success leading to strong outcomes (lack of strong businesses and schools to help with socialization)
  3. Poor infrastructure.
  4. Lack of immigration of minorities who may exhibit fewer effects of #1 and #2.

It’s not rocket science… but what can we do? Would love to hear thoughts.



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    Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

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