Blogactionday: Educating the poor

Many a times I hear people joke, ” I’m so poor I can’t pay attention!”  Today, on this international blogactionday against poverty… that joke, that simple statement has taken a profoundly different meaning. For some kids, that statement is just a joke, but for many kids that is the truth.  Kids living in poverty do have a difficult time paying attention in class.  Statistically, it has been proven that poor kids struggle in school more than the higher income kids who do not have to worry about their basic needs of food and shelter. The socio-economic status of a student is one of the most important factors in student success or failure in the classroom. In a recent article,Class matters- In and out of school: Closing gaps and requires attention to issues of race and poverty, Boyd-Zaharias & Pate-Bain wrote,”Low achievement and dropping out are problems rooted in social and economic inequality- a force more powerful than curricula, teaching practices, standardized tests or other school-related policies”.  What this means is that  in order for students to be successful their basic needs has to be met first.  It is very difficult to engage students in the classroom when they are worried about where they are going to sleep or what they are going to eat once the bell rings. The two meals a day at school is more than some of the kids would get if they were home. In some cases, the school is a sanctuary for kids who are abused, neglected and abandoned by parents who leave them to fend for themselves. Some kids are even forced to fight for their own basic needs when their parents feel that they are old enough to contribute.  Some of these kids end up working under the table to buy food and help pay for bills.

A couple of years ago I had a kid who moved from California to Arizona because he got in trouble with the law there.  He moved in with his dad who was a construction worker. Joe would miss school a lot and at first I would get on him about his absences and preached to him about the importance of education because I didn’t know about his home situation.  He did not tell me why he was frequently absent until a day after his fifteenth birthday.  On his birthday, he didn’t come to school because he was working under the table with his dad to make money.  When he came back I told him to stop ditching school.  I remember him looking at me and said, ” Ms. A yesterday was my birthday… nobody cared, not even my dad, his girlfriend… nobody did anything for me or say anything to me.”  I don’t know who was more shocked, me for discovering the truth or him for letting me know his secret. I couldn’t say anything… my mind went blank.  What do you say to a kid who looks at you in despair, in frustration?  Do your homework? Pay attention?  No, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t tell Joe to stop missing school. I couldn’t tell him to write his essays.  Instead I told him to take care of himself and if he needed help I was there for him.

As a teacher I see all types of kids come through my classroom and I am not talking about good kids or bad kids; I’m talking about kids from high, middle , and low income. At the school I teach at, over 62% of our students are on free or reduce lunches.  They are identified as the economically disadvantage.  Some of these kids are migrant  where their parents move around the agricultural region because of the field jobs.  Some of these kids come from a single parent home in which the majority of the time the mothers are the head of the household… the father no longer in their lives emotionally or financially.  It is amazing that against all odd many are successful because they believe that education is their way  out.  They are  right.  Education is the key to end poverty… to break the poor  soci-economic cycle.  If these kids want a better life, they have to get their education and fight against cultural norms and break free from the economic barrier they grew up in.  As an educator I think it is vital to remember what Eli Broad says, “Public education is the key civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our nation’s knowledge-based economy demands that we provide young people from all backgrounds and circumstances with the education and skills necessary to become knowledge workers. If we don’t, we run the risk of creating an even larger gap between the middle class and the poor. This gap threatens our democracy, our society and the economic future of America.”


14 thoughts on “Blogactionday: Educating the poor

  1. amphone

    I agree education is the answer. Who can solve his or her country’s problem? I think of all the country third world countries and wonder, what happen? I go to their history and see what they have done to themselves and to each others. If they only know, the children are the future nor they care the children are their victims. Lets educate the leaders first. We live in a prosperous country and we feel obligate to go help. Some of them didn’t even want us to go help. It’s the leaders. They can solve their country’s problem if they want to. If they ask me how their country can end poverty, I will tell them how to do it. It’s simple.

  2. Laotian Teacher

    Hi Amphone! Definitely the leaders need to step up and help their people . The leaders do need to be educated about how they can help their country, what resources is needed and who will help them.

  3. amphone

    The people must have a voice. Then they can ask their elected government for help. Oh, some countries’ leaders elect themselves. I think we all should save all we can. What excess we have we give to the poor. How’s that sound teacher?

  4. Rob

    Education is good, but it doesn’t always lead to an end to poverty.

    My sister in law has a two year accounting degree, her husband a 4 year civil engineering degree. They grow rice. They also throw a net to catch small fish in the creek, and also the small insects that live in the water. Behind their house is a big pile of shells from the snails they eat. They are not well off.

    I know Joe’s dad, or if not him then many like him. If I were king I’d triple the minimum wage and make health care free, just to start.


  5. amphone

    Hi Rob, where is this country where college graduates with accounting degree and civil engineering degree who have to catch small fish and small insect in the water behind their house? Is that their choice of food or they just don’t have income to just go buy food?

    I know many like Joe and Joe’s dad. But anywhere in the world, you got to have a skill to survive. In a country that is ranked poorest, they have to work harder to have food to eat. It is the government’s job to make sure there is water for the fish to live in so that people can go fish them out when need be. It is also the government’s job to make sure people don’t go embarrass them saying or looking like they are starving and not well off. If I were a person in power, I wouldn’t want my people to go ask other people for help or for food. I would want them to come to me first. I then will go fetch for them the necessity.

    Sorry laotian teacher, I write in heat of frustration. I am tire of seeing poverty. I reistered with the UN last night. I am requesting to be in the peacekeeping unit anywhere in the world. I am going to get back into the service. I hope I can get to go to Asia.

  6. Laotian Teacher

    Rob, did you mean that you know people like Joe’s dad who had sons who worked under the table to make ends meet?
    Also, I had the same question as Amphone about what country is these people rom, the one you are talking about who goes fishing in the back creek to get food. If they are from a third world country than I can see that happening but it is very hard for me to visualize that happening on a regular basis that an engineer and his accountant wife go fishing for food. However, I am not saying that it can’t happen because I don’t know the full story.

    Amphone, I agree as the government of any country, I would take it as my top priority that the needs of my people are met. In a way, the leaders are like the “parents” of their countrymen so they should do what is best for them. You are right I wouldn’t want my people to go to another country to ask for help.

    I totally understand your frustration because this issue of poverty gets me rile up to especially when some leaders can do something to help their people, but refuse to do it.

  7. amphone

    Teacher, I know the reason why refuse. Let me guess, they want their citizen to be hard working and self reliance. But, we are talking about the little children who grow up to be the next parents of the next poor generation of poor children for the world to feed. I think somewhere along the line, we the world can intervene and end the cycle. My thougt to day on poverty.

  8. Rob

    Been away for a while.

    About Joe, yes I meant I know many like him, mostly the guys without papers who come here to work, kids have to work too, they grow up fast.

    My sister and brother in law live in Laos of course. Out past the jail at sum kay go right along the N side of the jail until you cross a bridge, that’s where they catch the fish.

    I blogged about them here.

    Good luck with the UN amphone, it’s good to act on those things you believe in.

  9. Laotian Teacher

    Rob, I know what you mean about many who come here to work, the illegal immigrants. I see many in that circumstances in Yuma because we are a border town. I am pretty sure some of my students are illegal immigrants, but I don’t ask if they are. I hear both sides of it so I understand.

    That is so sad about your family in Laos. What do you think needs to happen to change this? More job opportunities in Laos would help so hard working people like your sister and brother-in-law can use their skills. It just makes me sick to my stomach hearing stories like your sister because they have to do that in order to live. It is not fair!

  10. amphone

    laobumpkin blog is amazing. I have got to admit. Rob, thanks for the wish. I’m going to try to join the UN some how. I will continue my process. I always wanted to wear blue helmet with the capitol UN on the side of it. I hope they can use one more troop. You know? When I was in the Army, I wasn’t suppose to be deploy to Germany, it wasn’t in my order. I requested it to my superior and they took me. I was off to Germany. I might have to make personal contact with some of the commanders of the UN.

    Now now teacher. I am sure life is hard for most of us living everywhere, not just in Laos. But, we just wish more can be done in Laos so all 3 million Laotians can live their lives to the fullest with freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Like I said earlier. Do you know that you can help people by giving your thoughts and idea. I hope some people of important will soon ask the little people, what do you need?

  11. laogirl

    Hello Mrs. Aragon, im one of your old student at Kafka School is there anyway I can reach you through email? I dont want to post my comment here for us to talk.

  12. devinemissmerlin

    I love this blog and the desire for future good. Something I didn’t see mentioned that I think may be a large part of recurring poverty is genetic disorders. Outside of countries that are buried in poverty and communities without options, there is the very real concern of hereditary issues. My experience with poverty in the United States is there is often a common thread… An adult with ADHD or social disorders rarely holds onto a job long enough to advance and does not have the social skills to achieve what their counterpart in education may achieve. These individuals find a partner that with whom they communicate well, often someone else with a similar disorder. Their children get a double whammy chance to carry on the disorder and since many genetic disorders that cause retardation, decreased IQ and social skills (like Fragile X) get WORSE as they are passed on, they are likely to get an increased disability.

    Where that leaves a large number of families is that they are lacking the education and funds to treat their children in a way to ensure future success. The cycle continues.

    I have two high-functioning autistic children. MANY of the people I choose to associate with have children with ADD or HFA, an income just above poverty level and an IQ over 130; it just works that these are the people with whom I am comfortable. Far too many of them are aware of treatments that could help their children, but cannot afford them. Others do not have the skills necessary to go through all the red tape involved in government assistance.

    We get by, but what about ALL of those individuals who have similar genetic disabilities in their families and are lower down the genetic line, have less social skills or a lower IQ. They are unable to receive help. They often self-medicate and lose their children to a system that just houses them and doesn’t provide skills or treatment for their futures.

    This is my personal cause. I fear the great divide between incomes in the US. Perhaps, I am just being ignorant.

    Regarding 3rd world countries… the majority of help has to come from within. If some western country comes, the experience regarding education, farming and commerce that they could bring would be irrevelent to the country and could cause irreparable damage to the country in poverty. One macro economic view is to let each country only produce that which it is best at and which no other country is producing. In theory, that is beautiful, but what about the many countries that do not have natural resources or the funds to retrieve them. Again, they become pawns to the individuals who would help them or, too often, take advantage of them. An internal group, who knows the land and the society, could bring about the only true help.

    That being said… organizations that provide aid have the potential to bring an idea or hope to a community that could help it provide for its people in a previously unconsidered manner.

    I hope that was able to be followed πŸ™‚ Be safe and bring light… Kim

  13. Laotian Teacher


    Very good point about genetic disorder and its relations to poverty. You are correct, some who suffer from a genetic disorder and mental illness have a difficult time finding a job or keeping one. When you add kids to the equation— it is down right a struggle to keep everything together. I get upset when people generalize and say that people are homeless because they are lazy or its their choice. Of course to a certain extent that is true but how about people who suffers from schizonphrenia, depression etc…

    Both of my sisters work in the mental health field and they have clients who struggle with these issues. They have seen families torn apart because living is an ongoing struggle.

    I agree that in third world country, the help must come from within because the people know what they need. You are right that sometimes if an “outsider” whether it is a company, individual or organization gets involve, sometimes they take advantage of the people. Sadly, even some government take advantage of their own people.

    Change must come from within. Outsiders must ask the people what they want or need. πŸ™‚

  14. devinemissmerlin

    Laotian Teacher πŸ™‚

    I am WITH you! The issue of prejudice against homeless people has always bothered me. Now I understand the homeless issue more, but even the simplistic ideas I had as a teenager hold true:

    1) With all the people looking for work… the last person who is going to be hired is the one with questionable hygiene and torn/stained clothing.

    2) How are they supposed to be contacted if they receive a position?

    3) A large percentage of our homeless population was created by the massive closing of mental health institutions during the 70s and 80s. The patients were just left on the street.

    I think you are right regarding education. People in poverty do not get the same education… for MANY reasons. They also cannot even comprehend taking jobs that they have never known anyone to have. Plus, they don’t have the social and networking background of many others. People in poverty live in a constant state of defense; they never have the luxury of the offense.

    I’ve just started a blog…… It has a distinct tone at the moment, but that is only because it has only three postings.

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