Listening To The Poor

"Steve Inskeep's NPR  interview with Pulitizer Prize winning author Katherine Boo identifies a key for educators in battling intense poverty (and for policymakers seeking to improve school systems) .  Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers tackles the "gradations and nuances" of extreme poverty.  Since she was describing poverty in Mumbai, which is on a different order of magnitude than the poverty in my world, I was surprised when Boo mentioned  her relationships with families in the projects of Oklahoma City.  Boo's final words, however, made the essential point that we must respect the "real intelligence and real moral judgments" of poor people.  The lesson for educators who want to help students get out of "the undercity," and into the "infrastructure of opportunity," is that we must be like Boo and listen to poor children.  We must build on their strengths and not just be preoccupied by their deficits."

This is a guest post from John Thompson (@drjohnthompson), a longtime Oklahoma City high school teacher and adoptive parent who's writing a book about his experiences.  He is a regular contributor at This Week In Education.

Corrected:  Spelling of Inskeep.


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  • Make sure to see Thursday night of Chicago Tonight. Jackson Potter articulated CTU's points very well. Brizard's lackey was clearly annoyed and tried to circumvent many of the questions. Score one for CTU!

  • In reply to FrontRow:

    Potter was very articulate and on point! They keep Brizard out of these situations so he doesn't look bad. Jackson got it right. What does Brizard do other than put his mug on staged apperances and radio shows? Brizard does no heavy lifting nor work for more resources for the neighborhood schools. Brizard is a slacker.

  • In reply to FrontRow:

    here's the link to the video posted online, if you still want to see the potter/denoso discussion

  • Test score disparity is a larger problem and may not be fixed by closing schools. Read below: In other education news, new studies are showing the education gap between rich and poor Americans is growing to record levels. According to the New York Times, one recent study found the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s. Another study from researchers at the University of Michigan shows the disparity in college completion by income bracket has grown by 50 percent since the late 1980s. From Democracy Now!

  • In reply to FrontRow:

    I'm not surprised at the findings of these studies, especially when looking at the time spans of the data. The 60's were the beginning of many programs that were meant to help people raise themselves out of poverty. I think something went terribly wrong - instead of being a temporary help measure, for many it became a way of life. Why get an education, or for that matter, work, when you could be provided with public housing, child welfare payments, food stamps, etc.? I truly believe that the incentive to move toward having a better life was completely destroyed. Living on government subsidies has become the status quo for too many people. I cringe when the parents of my students, with hair and nails done and dressed to the nines, talk about waiting for her "paycheck" when she is awaiting her welfare check. I always want to ask what exactly they did to earn their "pay", but I bite my tongue. When people are satisfied with what they have, there is no incentive to do better. I really believe it is time for a radical change, or these gaps will continue to grow along with all the social ills that go along with a lack of education and purpose.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    I agree. This applies to the wealthy and privileged, too. They have become too comfortable and secure in their lofty position and easy lifestyle. There should be higher taxes on the wealthy so they are incentivized to work harder for their earnings.

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