Saturday, June 26, 2010

Who's Poor?

This week I attended a conference for teacher educators. Discussion centered on faulty assumptions our college students sometimes make about children and families in their field placements. One professor shared a student's misconception that since the kids in her field placement were poor, the parents wouldn't care or be involved. Another well-meaning colleague explained how she handles this situation -- she shows the class a picture of her own children, taken when she and her husband were graduate students. "Are these children poor?" she asks. Since the kids in the picture are clean and well dressed (and probably because they're white, but that was left unsaid), the students say "No." This colleague then goes on to explain that since she and her husband were graduate students at the time and living on very limited funds, these children were, in fact, poor. Therefore, she cautions, be careful what assumptions you make -- appearances are deceiving.

But were those kids really poor? What does it mean to be poor? This family's economic status was low, no doubt, but their poverty was temporary, by choice, and limited to dollars in the bank. They were rich in social and cultural capital, which allowed them to benefit from higher education and pursue satisfying careers. Their white, middle-class background provided options that they took for granted. Of course, they worked hard and should be congratulated for their achievements. But poor? I don't think so. We need to be careful of our assumptions.

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