Earlier this week I was talking to one of the ladies I work with about poverty and education. We were discussing how the poor often do not get the same chances as those who are better off financially. Their school systems are not the same; and those that make it to college are ill-prepared due to their less-than educations growing up.
One thing I can say that I am thankful for is the education I received. My family was very poor, but I was able to attend decent schools. Since I did not live inner city, the school system in my area was about what it is elsewhere. So, I had the opportunity to take advanced coursework (and was encouraged to do so--which is very important to note since many inner city kids are discouraged from doing so). I was very fortunate in that area. Also, as a masked blessing, I had a step sister who was a year older than me. She was home schooled and often brought her work to my house on the weekends for me to do (for her, of course, lest I be pulverized). So, I was able to learn things a year ahead of schedule. (Plus, I secretely enjoyed learning all of the new information.) In addition to this, I would spend my summers learning as much as I possibly could before the next school year. When we would go to the flea markets, I would find 25 cent school books (and sometimes even free books!) and teach myself the information inside (mainly English and math books). Plus, I had access to a lot of accelerated reading books in my school library. So, I would read book after book of late middle school and high school material, stretching my elementary school brain to accommodate the new information. I was very, very lucky in this respect.
Others are not so lucky. As I have previously mentioned, my home life was hell, but I used learning as my escape. Other troubled children and teens find their escape in drugs, alcohol, gangs, boyfriends or girlfriends, video games, or in other addictions or distractions. This group is often misunderstood or overlooked in the educational system. They are branded as less than or beyond help. They are told that they are just like the misfits who came before them and will never amount to anything, will never escape poverty. They are often ignored or treated as if they are not worth the time and money it would take to educate them, to give them the tools necessary to rise above their circumstances. So, what happens? They become a part of this self-fulfilling prophecy. They turn into misfits who cannot escape their past, who cannot move beyond their unfortunate family "traditions." What many people overlook is the fact that these kids, these adults even, are worthy of our time and money. Sure, there are those who misuse or abuse the system, but this is not the majority. (Even so, what does this say about those who do abuse the system? They have given up and given into the lies that they are not good enough, that they will never amount to anything, that they are worthless. So, they might as well take advantage of the system since they aren't good enough to do it on their own.) If we want this cycle to end, we must be the ones to step in and and say, "No, I will not treat this child as inferior. I will love him despite the stereotypes we have given him." "I will give this adult the respect she deserves." "I will help this hungry person because they deserve to have a good meal, too." "I will sponsor this single parent family of 6 and forego the recognition that I feel I deserve because it is more important that these children have a Christmas and know that they are cared about and loved than for me to feel appreciated and honored." We must move forward if we want the system to change. If we hope to change it, we must do it with one person at a time, putting aside our disagreements or opinions, letting go of our feelings of entitlement or elevated pride. The proud are not the ones that do the most good in the world, but the humble. Let us be the humble hands and feet of a power greater than ourselves. Ekou Eleos.