In the last few years, my work in special education has led me to disabled children who live in poverty. While it was a rare occurrence even five or ten years ago, it is now much more common. I can't quote statistics on this, although I hope to do some study on this topic. I can only speak from personal experience. Last year, my class was small and the poverty level was high. I think only one of my students was NOT in poverty (out of five or six). This year, out of nine students, six of them were receiving free lunches. For those of you who don't know, the poverty level was calculated in the 1955 by calculating the yearly cost of food for an adult or child, omitting the purchase of meat, and multiplying by three (Ross, 2009). Thankfully, Congressmen Dodd and McDermitt have introduced legislation to bring the formula more in line with present-day realities.
I must confess I lived below the poverty line for a year when I became a single parent with three children. The lessons I learned have compelled me to speak out about this devastating hardship for children who have no platform to speak. As a parent and as a teacher, I see children who cannot develop their abilities to the fullest because they are held back by lack of day care options, medical options, and grocery limits. I teach children who do not know what to do with a Book Club book because no one has bought them one before. I see children who get excited about technology and can learn math, reading, graphics, writing, storytelling, and simple computer science concepts when they gain access to machines and programs appropriate for their abilities.
Recently Stephen Krashen, who writes about second-language acquisition, wrote about the relationship between poverty and achievement in his newsletter. He objected to the administration focus on higher standards. I concur. Higher standards will not provide better nutrition or more educational experiences for children whose parents may be working one or two jobs apiece. Higher standards will not allow children to spend more after-school time outside because they have adequate supervision. Higher standards will only create more paperwork for an overworked educational sector.
Those who use the phrase "throw money at a problem" are almost always trying to prevent spending. Yet if children come from homes where there are no books, educational toys, educational videos and outdoor activity, where are they going to get them? If they are learning another language in the process, they are under siege cognitively. Without the words to express what they see in the world, their power is limited and their needs ignored. President Obama overcame hardship in his childhood. Let’s hope he has not lost his compassion.
Ross, E. (2009, 10 23). Hutchinson News Online Edition. Retrieved 10 25, 2009, from The Hutchinson News: http://www.hutchnews.com/Todaystop/poverty2009-10-23T20-42-40