"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Don't Liberals Really Like Poor Children?

First of all, I am a liberal--so this post is following common societal mores for truth telling--you are allowed to criticize your own group. Here is what is bugging me lately about people who call themselves liberals: they don't REALLY like poor kids. Oh, they like them in theory, they don't mind tax money being spent to help them, they believe that the children deserve a good education, they just don't want poor children sitting next to their kids in a public school. Oh its OK if there are some really interesting poor families in the school: in other words families with compelling/heartrending up from nothing stories (up being the operative word), or--even better--newly arrived immigrant families with an interesting language or cultural perspective to contribute to the school. That way, they can pat themselves on the back about diversity while not being made uncomfortable by the reality of true poverty. The children they really do not want to have to deal with on a daily basis are the children of entrenched, generational poverty that live very close to their own neighborhoods. THOSE children might have problems, THOSE children might come to school hungry or not have stable housing, THOSE children might cause their children to ask uncomfortable questions. Being poor does not make you a bad parent any more than being wealthy makes you a good one--but being poor probably makes it harder to do everything that good parenting requires. And it definitely makes you more tired.
Liberal parents will say they make many herculean efforts to keep their kids out of certain Philadelphia neighborhood schools (applying to the nominal public schools called charters or trying to transfer to a public school in a high socioeconomic status neighborhood) because they are searching out the best possible education for their children. In many ways that is true. But the truth is that liberals are like everybody else--they are most comfortable with their own kind. If you are a middle class liberal it is really very comfortable to talk to other parents in the schoolyard if your main topic of conversation can be which $500.00 stroller to buy, which house cleaner is the best, or which art/dance/sport class to enroll your kid in. If, however, you are faced with having to relate to a parent who is rushing between two low-wage jobs and may not make rent--well, that might be awkward. And, you might be revealed NOT to be the wonderful, egalitarian, liberal that you thought you were.
The very best, most productive thing that middle-class liberal parents (I'm not criticizing conservatives here because they don't tend to be disingenuous about their educational motives) can do for poor children is to allow their own children to attend school with them! All schools would be improved by the presence of a really diverse student and parent population, society would be improved because children would learn how to move gracefully in many kinds of circles from a young age, and--because a rising tide lifts all boats--I don't believe that any children (liberal middle to high SES or not) would lose out educationally or socially by this arrangement. Perhaps, just maybe, this could put our society on the road to a truly meaningful education for all.


  1. While talking about raising kids in our "iffy" neighborhood, a neighbor of mine recently said to me, "What if we all just sent our kids to the local school?" My son is only just coming up on 1 now, but my wife and I are tempted to do just that when the time comes. I hope my neighbor will too, if/when he and his wife have children. It does seem hypocritical to talk about revitalizing neighborhoods but then opting out of the schools.

  2. CDO--I agree. I am writing a piece about the neighbors sending kids to neighborhood schools. If enough of the neighborhood did it it would automatically improve the school. The neighbors would bring social, educational, and political capital to the school. K.L.

  3. Kristin. Thank you for this post. I liked how you confronted "liberalism" as it relates to school choice. I bloggoed on a related topic of Charter Schools: Social innovation hit or miss? http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/102072/charter-schools-social-innovation-hit-or-miss.

    I plan to continue to follow your blog.

    Keep up the great work.

  4. Thanks, SR--I enjoyed the post on charters--there is much to be figured out!