Sunday, February 13, 2011

We Used Busing to Integrate Black Students; Now We May Use It to Segregate Poor Kids

This story is about ten days old.  But somehow I cannot get it out of my mind.  Let me give you the background.  The Niagara District School Board in Ontario is planning to open a school for low-income students whose parents don't have a college or university education because they argue "poor students often struggle in school and have a higher dropout rate."   It would have about 150 grade 6 and 7 students to begin with, growing by 75 students a year peaking at 575 students when the grade 6'ers get to grade 12.  And the board is not open to canceling it, but will listen to other suggestions.  Very nice.

What will the school do differently?  Well, it will spend extra time with students on developing learning skills and building self-confidence; it will do this during an extended school day.  Some local politicians are upset.  The Ontario Minister of Education is watching the situation carefully but not yet prepared to ban it.  The big issue is will the children be stigmatized as a result of attending this school?

The school is associated with the education program of a nearby university, the YMCA, and the elementary teacher's union.  That's a good start.  According to the article below, the program is aimed at reducing the board’s high school dropout rate, which at 10.6 per cent is above the provincial average of 9 per cent.

That's the background.  Now let's think about this a little realistically for a moment.

First, I'm not sure what the education of one's parents has to do with it?   My mom and dad never went beyond grade 6, and although neither of my parents could help me with my studies in Canada from the time I was five until I finished my three degrees, I can assure you their role models in reading (the newspapers for my dad -- with his very broken English --  and the Bible for both of them) made a big differences to what I pursued.  Discussion also played a big role.  We didn't talk about television, sports, car, and beer.  We talked about history, faith, politics, and what's right and wrong.

And who says that being educated is a guarantee for being wealthy enough to provide all that young children need to compete these days?  How soon we forget the days when nearly every taxi driver in New York had a Ph.D. (granted from outside the country) but still.  Education is no guarantee as to being a good parent or role model or even providing for your children's educational needs.

Second,  being poor is not something that children notice when they are in grade six or 11 years old -- they notice it way before that.  They know in grade two if not earlier whether they are rich or not compared to their school friends.  They know that when they can't go away to Europe each summer or go to Florida each winter break or even go skiing on the weekends.   They know it when they can't get to see the same shows that local children's theatre puts on.  They know it when they get second-hand clothes -- sometimes from the older siblings of their very own friends.  They know it when they don't have their own computer or their own cell phone and their car is a van rather than an SUV with a Lexus or M.B. symbol on it.  They know when they get one gift at Christmas and their fiends get way more than they can use.   And they know it when some children won't even come to their birthday parties or worse still, they dont' have a birthday party.  And so much more.

The proponents of this plan suggest that since poverty is already a stigma, a separate school like this is not about "where they're coming from" but "where they can go".  Try telling that to a little girl who doesn't have a new dress for the Christmas (or any other) program these days.  [As an aside: Yes, I know we don't have Christmas programs any more.  Maybe that's part of the whole problem.  We forget to teach kids that others have needs and to share not only our things, but our sincere love and our care.  And of course, you can do it outside Christianity -- many religions do, but since we're still primarily Christian, maybe we should have thought a little more carefully about caving in to the liberal left and throwing God out of the classroom altogether.  Let's save this for another blog.]

Third, one supporter cites  a 12-year-old pupil who was exhausted one recent morning after caring for a sick brother all night because their parents work as overnight office cleaners.  But this school won't change that.  The girl will still need to stay up all night taking care of her sick sibling.   You can keep encouraging these kids, but do you need to do it in a segregated school.   Instead of equalizing what students are allowed in schools, the Ontario government, led by its Liberal Premier, was recently encouraging kids to bring cell phones to school to help them in their education -- complete with links to the Internet.  Now, there's brainpower to spare.

What we need is not segregated schools for the poor.  Instead we need to provide optional programs for parents to attend to get the skills they need for helping their children succeed.  We're not just talking learning a language.  We're also talking about helping them recognize and identify what the issues are that impede their children's education -- the issues they can impact with some help.  We need to offer these programs during the days and evenings to cover all parents.  We need to be working together with other agencies to make this happen.  We need to offer some parents that need it "day or night care" in order to attend these classes.   None of these people addressing this issue, for or against, know anything about poverty.  You can address it at the child's level and soon fail or you can find the parents that want to make a difference and help them.  [As a person involved in a Canadian Mission that works from our four year-round ministry centres and camps across Canada with children whose families would well qualify under the criteria suggested for this school, I can assure you -- children will change very quickly when they are shown love and caring and consistency and fairness.  But all is almost always lost when they return home.  Who will be with these Niagara children on the weekends?  Who will be with them on breaks and especially during the long hot months of summer?  For my tax money, take action that will get closer to the cause rather than the symptoms.

So, how do I really feel about this whole thing?  I really don't know.  I guess to be fair I should ask myself whether or not I would send my children to such a school if our family "qualified"?  Okay, self-examination time.  And the answer is:  "No, I would not."   I would do all I could to sacrifice whatever I needed to sacrifice -- time, purchases, sleep, cigarettes, beer, entertainment to give my kids the best chance at an education they could have.   And to bolster that up, I would spend a lot of time with them helping them understand that in God's economy, being poor is not a sin.

But what's more important is what you think.  Tell us.

Debate heats up over Niagara school for poor kids -

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous13/2/11 21:05

    A no win situation. The school system is failing at the local level and the proviical government isn't going to step in because they don't have any answers. They are the ones who ruined the system. They threw God out and being a gentleman God said, "Do your own thing." I saw this and sent my kids to private Christian School. Now they are doing home schooling with their children as private school is still good but beyond their means with three children. Our public school system has only got worse. Ontario puts all its money in the public system. Taxypayers should be treating equally, but not in Ontario. The teacher's union sees to that. Maybe we are heading toward a revolution in Canada! Democracy is failing here. Do we need to go the way of the midddle east countries to get reform? Our liberal small L politicians are pointing this way. People are fed up. Our American friends have the Tea Party. Is it time for a conservative force to rise in Canada? Those in control continue to go in the wrong direction. Maybe Canada will have to through tougher times to make our country realize its time for people to take action and throw out the elitist politicians. It can a happenan and may need to.