The Poverty Paradigm: Resisting This Narrative

I can’t tell you how many educators I have heard say that poor, Black kids can’t learn and that poverty is their deficiency. On top of that, poor, black parents/guardians do not care about the education of their children.

Full stop.

I, for one, grew up as a poor, Black kid.

I learned.

I, for one, see how poor, Black kids can, will and have always excelled academically. See, it takes educators that are there to teach with high expectations that will push all of his or her students, no matter the background.

Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.
Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.

Let me tell you, my parents never thought I was deficient. They never sent me to school saying I was an inadequate black kid because of poverty. They always told me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I can succeed in anything if I had the will to believe. We were broke and struggled at times, but that never stopped me from going to school and excelling. Sure, you may have been through some dark times but my parents didn’t want to see no bad grades. They weren’t about to have me sitting up in a school and not learn.

Let me tell you, my folks made sure to read to us. They made sure to see if I had homework and if I needed additional help. So, please dismiss yourself if you have the belief that poor folks, especially black and Latino folks can’t learn.

Let me tell you, most of us poor folk are serious about our education. We set high expectations for ourselves and the kids around us. In the words of my black mama, “I ain’t raising no dummies”. There you have it.

So, the next person that I hear saying that poor black kids can’t learn than we about to have some problems.

Let me tell you something else, these black and brown babies are pushing hard in these classrooms. They are pushing hard against the social-inequities within their lives. They are pushing against the oppressions that face them just because they are poor and black.

Let me tell you something else, if my black and brown students want to beat-box on the table, braid their hair back in cornrows, dab on it and everything else that screams “Black and brown” then go ahead. There’s too many people that wish to police them. There’s too many people seeking to silence them. There’s too many people that wants to see them fail.

We are not deficient. We are not going to silence ourselves. We are not going to fail.

Moving in the Direction of Progress: The World of Children

We would not have gotten past the level of pure adaptation to the world if we had not reached the possibility, while thinking about adaptation itself, of also using it to program transformation. For this reason, progressive education, whether at home or at school, must never eradicate the learner’s sense of pride and self worth, his or her ability to oppose, by imposing on him or her a quietism which denies his or her being. That is why one must work out the unity between one’s discourse, one’s actions, and one’s motivating utopia. In this sense, one must take advantage of every opportunity to give testimony to one’s commitment to the realization of a better world- a world more just, less ugly, and more substantively democratic. -Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Indignation

In thinking about the words of Freire, I struggle daily to remind myself that I must never put out the flame of any student. I must allow the student to stay on fire, ready to light whatever comes their way. However, many schools are set up to tame students. Students are encouraged to act like cattle. In my conversation with a professor at my university, she told me that she was always full of life and never allowed school to put out her flame. She was that ‘loud, black girl that wouldn’t shut up’. In seeing how school would break the spirits of students, she was committed to being herself. She was committed to the fire inside of her.

As I engage with students on a daily basis within my primary-school, I am always thinking about this. I always remind students that there are limitations on their behavior, but they must never change who they are. They must always remain who they are, but grow intellectually. I think school can be extremely restricting and suffocating. It can drag students out of their vibrancy and breed a population of students that are complacent to rules and regulations. I refuse to teach this to students. I want to teach students to think critically. They must not feel obligated to agree with an authority-figure or a system. They must learn that citizenship doesn’t mean complacency.

Today, I experienced a teacher telling her students that they must honor this country’s flag,be respectful citizens and appreciate American government. I must say that this can be a good way to help students understand their role(s) in citizenship. However, I would’ve had a caveat to such a statement. I would have told them that there is a time to rebel and to say ‘no’ if injustices are present. Nonetheless, this caveat would need to be explained in an age-appropriate manner. Students are aware of the world around them. They see what is happening in their neighborhoods. They see what is happening in other neighborhoods. So, do not believe they are ignorant to the world around them. I believe many people tend to be overprotective of children. They aren’t given the chance to think critically. They are coddled until they are deathly afraid of the world. Teach them to think. Teach them to read. Teach them to question.

I can’t simply accept this notion that children are ignorant. I’ve worked with children and they understand more than you think that they know. They are observing the world just like adults. They are trying to fill in the gaps just like adults. They are dealing with the massive influx of information that adults are trying to get through on a daily basis. Do not believe that they are ignorant. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that they are very intelligent. They are growing in knowledge, especially as consumers of this technologically-advanced society.

So, allow them to explore. Explore yourself to explore what they are exploring. Become aware of the things they are into. Do not hold them back from discovering new things. Yes, set limits. However, do not allow those limits that you set to prevent them from being the great individual that they can be. They can add to the collective and do much good. Just observe them. Let them show you the world through their eyes. They will help guide you in your knowledge of the world.