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I just finished reading a phenomenal article by Laurie H. Rogers entitled Poverty NOT the problem with K-12 Mathematics for EducationNews and was amazed at how wonderfully she articulated what I have been thinking.
Rogers provides a classic example of the evasion of responsibility endemic in school districts across the country when she quotes a teacher as saying, “We have so many poor people. Can’t you see we’re doing our best? It’s the poverty. We can’t overcome poverty. Poverty is the problem. We also have ineffective teachers, uninvolved parents, unmotivated students, social issues, lack of money, changing standards, testing, No Child Left Behind, huge classes, and … uh … a bunch of other things for which we’re definitely NOT responsible … But, the main problem is poverty.” I'm reminded of my daughter complaining that her toe hurt when she bent it backward. "Mom...it hurts when I do this!" "Well," I'd reply. "Don't do that!" It's time for teachers across the county to realize that they are the single best offense we have in this country to break the poverty cycle. My advice to them is to stop complaining about a problem they are creating and that they can fix!
Teachers are not the only culprits in this sham. Administrators as well are notorious for playing the poverty card to excuse the poor performance of students in their districts. "Administrators blame poverty, while they add to the poverty problem. Rather than allowing these kids to learn to fish, they’re grooming them to accept a fish a day for the rest of their lives." [ROGERS]
The educational deficiencies in this country can be fixed. Teachers and administrators must stop trying to cover their own inadequacies with the poverty excuse. Students from low income families are not inherently stupid and it's time to stop implying that they are. It's time to stop assuming that low-income parents care less than their middle and high-income counterparts about their children's educations or that poor students are somehow less motivated. This is especially true where mathematics is concerned. Its principles transcend all language and socio-economic barriers. Mathematics is widely regarded as the universal language since its rules underpin all nature. It is the one concept that all intelligent species will have in common since its fundamental properties of numbers are the same everywhere.
Given this understanding of the universality of mathematics, there should be no inequities in education as implied by Judith Jacobs in her article What is Equity in Mathematics Education? for the NCTM News Bulletin. She states that, "a culture of equity does not mean using the same curriculum, teaching practices, or contexts with all students." Yet I wonder why that would be? Regardless of a child's language or the income level of their family, 2+2 will always equal 4. In fact, it seems to me that the only barriers to teaching this complex idea exist in certain teachers' and administrators' prejudices. These prejudices are illustrated by comments made by the National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director, Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi. In an article for The Principal Difference, PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid he is quoted as saying, "We’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.” It is just this type of attitude that breeds the excuses so widely heard in school districts across the country. Poor does not equal stupid and less well funded districts actually have the opportunity to truly teach mathematical concepts more effectively than those with a calculator on every desk. Teachers need to roll up their sleeves...get out some paper and pencils...have high expectations for every child...and go back to the basics. They can start with 1+1=2.