I saw, today, a post on Pass The Chalk by 2010 NYC TFAer Jarell Lee called ‘Poverty Should Not Matter. Ever’. Jarell is living proof that ‘poverty is not destiny’ as he grew up very poor, yet went on to Harvard and then to Teach For America. He is thankful that his own teachers, particularly Mrs. Swift and Mr. Smith, never used the fact that he was poor as an excuse for giving up on him
Jarell attended NBC’s Education Nation, and from what I’ve read about it, there were many ‘reformers,’ like Geoffrey Canada, who said things like this, countering the numerous people who have been claiming that ‘poverty is destiny’ or that ‘poverty is an excuse for not trying’. But this is, of course, a ‘straw-man’ argument. Nobody, certainly not me, thinks that it is impossible for someone to break the cycle of poverty. Also, I don’t think that teachers shouldn’t try their best just because solving every out of school problem of every kid is just too much for one teacher to accomplish.
These two teachers, Mrs. Swift and Mr. Smith, did they inspire every one of their students to go to Harvard? Most likely not. And that doesn’t make them failures or excuse-makers, I think.
I also noticed that the charter school at which Jarell taught, The Excellence Boys Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant had 54% free lunch and 17% reduced lunch. This seems low compared to the neighboring schools.
I think I prefer the message that Jarell sent when he spoke seven months ago at a NYC all corps event which I saw on YouTube (soon to be deleted!). In this speech he talked about the power and importance of teaching, but also about the power and importance of those out of school factors.
Here are some quotes, followed by the video itself:
“We need more business people to create jobs in America. We need more doctors committed to providing quality healthcare for all. We need more politicians invested in making education their priority. We need to work together to build up these communities.”
“One day our students will attend generously funded schools and be healthy enough and happy enough to focus on their studies.”