I can't thank you all enough for the thoughts you have shared about my post on Wednesday and for all of you who have shared that post with others so that they, too, might join the conversation. I thank you for sharing your own thoughts and for having the courage to participate and advocate for a discussion rife with differences, difficulty and pain. Today, I wanted to highlight a bit of the conversation that occurred in the comments section and hopefully continue this discussion as well as encourage you to head over to my sister's blog (Empirically Erin) and read her thoughts on poverty and race specifically in the blogging world.
You may not know, but lurking here in the comments section from time to time is my own father. He writes under the moniker "P-Dids". He's witty and loves the power of the shock factor. I've deleted a comment from him in the past, the only comment I've ever deleted, because I knew those of you who don't know him well wouldn't understand the very disguised humor in his message.
This week, however, he posted a very serious and very powerful response to what I had written that, at the surface, seems in direct contrast to what I had written. He challenges the notion of treating people with grace and allowing them to continue to use government aid year after year.
In response to someone else's comment that the original blogger was not referring to the working poor but rather those who are chronically jobless, I posted the following:
Even if we are referring to someone who is perpetually jobless and drinks the entire day away every single day, would that make it okay to judge them without knowing what brought them to that point? Say for instance, that person had been sexually abused day after day throughout their childhood and drinking was the way they coped with the reality and aftermath of that abuse, would we be justified in condemning them? Or would we, upon knowing the truth of the life they had had the misfortune to have lived, be grateful for our own lot in life and be willing to lend an ear to help shoulder some of that pain?
How we see a person on any particular day, or even across the span of a few years, does not encompass all of who they are or who they will forever be.
Love always hopes.
I called my dad and told him to read my post because I knew he'd love the use of the word "proverbial". It's a Paul word. I never expected he'd then participate in the discussion. But he did and he wrote:
I applaud all of your idealism and desire to live the words we all say we live by, but that so many of us don't.
To be sure I have seen the hard working poor you're talking about. The Great State of Maine in which I live has many hard working poor. It also has a large number of folks who know nothing of hard work but rather dependence on the State for their existence. There are now generations of people who live this way.
Here's my take on this.
Here in Maine we have always had a manufacturing economy. First it was the woolen mills, then the shoe shops, the paper mills and wood products. The hours were long and very hard and the owners paid wages sufficient to keep the employees alive but not so alive so they could move on up to the East Side. The only exception was the paper mills where the workers organized and they made a decent wage but the need for paper, and cheap imports have killed this industry.
That said, there never was and still isn't, a sense that education is worthwhile. "Working in the mill was good enough for the old man, it's good enough for me."
The woolen mills are gone. The shoe shops are gone. The wood product plants are mostly gone as are the paper mills. Where does that leave us? With folks with little education and no jobs.
But here's the rub. Human nature (for the most part) like electricity, seeks the path of least resistance. Think about your own life. How often do you try taking a short cut when you know full well that you really need to expend the effort to do it right?
Perhaps this sound silly to you but if you have no education, and no propect for work, and the State is giving away money, what would you do? After you get on the dole, what incentive is there to get off?
Here's another thought for you. Well tempered greed can be good. The desire to get ahead, to become more than you are, to aspire, is also human nature.
I want to play with my ham radio toys so I bust my butt working hard to make the money to buy the toys. I provide a good service to my clients who pay me well for my efforts. To do this I have had to become smarter than I was (let that one go Em), and I have had to take risks.
It is also true that I have known economic hardship. These last few years have been hard with little work but because I took a calculated business risk, I ensured our economic future and I'm still standing.
Can everyone do all that's necessary to get ahead? Probably not. We're all different and we're all damaged. What seems easy to me, may be impossible for others. But to give up, to make others support you for your existence is infuriating.
And what makes folks like me all the more upset are the folks who have come from nothing and made it. They valued an education and had a desire to be more. The best part of all, they let nothing stand in their way.
So here's where I get so confused. We are our brothers' keepers (I'm not known for being PC but I allow for our sisters too). So where do we stop being their keeper and start making them our financially dependent drones?
When does a hand up turn into a hand out? Merely providing financial support does nothing toward improving the quality of their lives. Maybe it's just me, but the feeling of success from doing a job well is invigorating. We all need to feel like we have some worth. Living for the monthly welfare check doesn't help folks have that feeling.
The answer? I don't know. But I think it has to be that parents see to it that their children have the desire to learn. With an education you have multiple paths open to you and whatever path interests you, head in that direction. With no education, where can you go? The parents have to be convinced that their path won't work for their kids. That is tough. So Em, I salute you for being a part of the solution. I know it's tough but you keep plugging. And keep living the Word. Ha, look at that! I turned this religious!
I am so glad my dad decided to write because while it seems contradictory to my own opinion, it actually is the next step.
I spoke of not passing judgment on others and treating them with grace. Of not making assumptions and of not believing yourself to be of such high moral character that you would not make the same choices in the same circumstances.
But I am not advocating for mediocrity.
I teach adult ESL classes in the mornings and work on grants in the afternoons that cover the costs of said ESL classes so that we might continue to offer them to the community for free. Just yesterday, as I was editing a grant my boss had written, I came across this in her words: This program brings evidence-based methodology and strategies to individuals who need and deserve excellent educational services so they can move toward a better life for themselves and their families, and so we can all benefit from the gifts they have to bring to our society.
Compassion, understanding and grace is the first step. Next would be the students recognizing their vast potential, which we all innately have, fostering that potential and offering them a path toward something better: a sense of personal satisfaction, pride and hope.
In the program I work for, we not only work with students to recognize the transformative power of their own education, we push them towards recognizing that same power for their children. We discuss the importance of involvement in their children's education and how to advocate for their children if they need special services and how to help with homework if the parents themselves don't understand it and how to teach their children study skills and the importance of diligence and hard work. We've accompanied parents to parent-teacher conferences and meetings at schools. To doctor's appointments and introduced them to mental health specialists.
If I'm not part of the solution, I'm part of the problem. But it is not difficult to want to be part of that solution because it involves recognizing that everyone was created to be somebody and that society is lesser every single time potential goes unrecognized and unfulfilled. That you and I are lesser without the contributions of others.
Once you've found your own life's work, it's much easier to encourage it in others. Education is my life's work.
Lastly, in my father's own words: My reply above hit the character limit and I had to edit it to get it to go. I am the king of verbosity.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
If you are looking to read more on this topic, I again encourage you to read my sister's blog and her thoughts on this in the context of the blogging community. I would also encourage you to head over to Traffic Jelly and read about how her experiences teaching in a school where education is ofter undervalued. She wrote a beautiful post the other day (before all this controversy began) about how her teaching has been a healing experience for herself as well.
Thank you so, so much for taking the time to read this. I would love for you to leave your thoughts below and to share this with others that they, too, might participate in a constructive discussion on poverty, race and education.