Saturday, July 12

Teaching the Middle

In our classrooms, we teach the middle class.

One more time...

In our classrooms, we teach the middle class.

Ruby Payne's "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," takes this position, and provides generalizations about the low, middle and wealthy classes. An expert on the issue, Payne provides a brief overview of the mentality of poverty in the classroom, and how educators can approach students in this context.

In our classrooms, we teach the middle class. Because, our teachers ARE middle class. The program I am currently in, is so white, is so middle class, it makes me kind of sick. The basic information about the American social classes contained in this book is shocking to the students I share class with, and was my life growing up.

While reading through the first six short chapters, I recognized myself in not the middle class that I might now reflect, but the low class that I grew up in. Recently, I completed a Personal Self-Study for a class, reviewing my own cultural, including economic, background:

The culture I grew up in, that is the one that surrounded me, was very different from the one I lived in every day. While I could never describe my upbringing as rich by American standards, I was raised in a white, struggling middle class family. I add the “struggling” to describe my parent’s relationship with money as I grew up. While I rarely felt the effects of the struggle, I was always aware of it: my mother worked three jobs for most of my life, to supplement my father’s two incomes, most Christmas’ I was told how much I could ask for—in dollar amounts—and I was one of the few in High School who bought their own car [after crshing the one that was gifted to me]. The kids I had known since kindergarten had big houses, nice cars and new clothes (and not just in September.) When I turned 16, the legal working age in Washington State, I was essentially told that I must pay my way through life, and got a job. I worked for three years at Target where the kids I went to school with shopped or more frequently, worked for “pot money.” I took on my parent’s need for financial security and got a second job when I turned 17, working part-time as a nanny.

It seems unthinkable to me that any adult would be unable to relate to a student that comes from this situation. I felt for most of my childhood, that I was not a child.

How do we, as teachers who will inevitable teach the middle class, relate to those who are not to middle class, and still give them the skills that they need to succeed?

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