Should We Teach “Other People’s Kids” Differently?

Great reflection by Christopher Lehman on several issues:
“am I giving these children the same dignity and respect that I ask in return?
am I teaching them the way I want to be taught?
am I teaching them compliance or independence?
am I teaching these students differently than I would others?
Does this feel right to me?
What can I change?”

Christopher Lehman

This post is the second of two in response to CNN’s “Inside Man,” my first was posted yesterday. I decided to make this one separate because while the reflection was sparked from a few scenes in that program it goes beyond that one hour and that one particular school.

In this Inside Man episode, Morgan Spurlock visited a school in Finland where he took a stab at teaching a class, then as a comparison visited a charter school in New York City and retaught the same lesson.  Watching footage of the New York City school, I was struck again by the sharp economic lines that are drawn between so many schools in our country and how in many those lines are strongly correlated with race.

Part of this post is to ask the same big question educators continue to grapple with, one that I am fairly certain we cannot…

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  1. This is a conversation I wished we could have more often — and publicly. It’s very un-PC to do so….without sounding nasty/Republican. I had no clue what utter BS could go on inside a household that sucked up a lot of public cash (my little sister had something like three social workers and therapists — more than I have ever had.) It was appalling and made me really angry.

    But it was also very clear to me that moving up/out into the middle class or above meant venturing into frightening and unknown territory. I have some compassion for that, but with limits. Very clear limits. Life is damn hard for everyone at some point.

  2. Caitlin,
    I agree with you about liberal guilt. Each year, I experience countless situations where I’ve given opportunities to students to make a positive choice, put in extra effort, join an extracurricular activity, etc., to MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN for themselves and, sadly, it’s very few disadvantaged students who break through whatever is holding them back to be positively disciplined and proactive.
    It’s obviously very tough for students to escape the culture they are born into, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse so often.

  3. Kathleen,
    As one who works with many disadvantaged students, the only way I stay sane is to realize I can’t save them all. Sad, but true. Like you said, so many students have massive obstacles and the public school system hasn’t been set up to give equal opportunity…

  4. For 18 months, in 1998, I was a Big Sister to a 13 year old girl, whose mother had disappeared for five years, to be raised by her (constantly shouting, morbidly obese, living on welfare) grandmother in a dirty crowded house. Two weeks after we were matched, the mother showed up — out of the blue — and moved into the house where she ate junk food and watched TV all day. I ended up being a de facto mother. When I finally called Big Sister to ask WTH? I was told “oh, yeah, that’s one of our most difficult families.” Really?!

    I had no prep. for that. I had no backup from Big Sisters. I tried to get my Little Sister accepted on scholarship to a local prep/boarding school. She never showed up for the interview and no one in her family ever apologized or explained.

    White liberal guilt will take you only so far. The other side of the equation is effort, discipline and the iron-clad FERVOR to flee poverty and its traps. I have never seen the world the same way since, no matter how much compassion I have, and I do, for lower-income workers and their families.

  5. What strikes me from his two reflections is the problem with poverty. The US seems to be trying to make ALL excel by testing, revising, rewriting objectives, new smart goals…etc etc. With each change the government issues warnings that everyone must comply or they will cut funding. Or show us all the great changes you have made, then we’ll give you money. But it doesn’t matter how hard a teacher works, how beloved he/she is, how inspiring…in most public schools with 40% or more on free or reduced lunch, teachers will always be fighting an uphill battle. Schools will still be deemed failing.

    This is one of the reasons why I left the public school sector, I couldn’t take this burden home with me everyday anymore. I couldn’t worry any longer whether little Jimmy was getting fed, safe, etc. How could I justify making my Mexican students work harder than my white kids. Why should they have to serve detention when they had to go home to take care of the kids, cook dinner, clean the house, because mom and dad had 3 jobs. How they got any homework done, I will never know. Ok, I’ll stop ranting.

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