Sunday, November 27, 2005

Parental Involvement and the Jerry Springer Culture.

I have been having an interesting discussion this week with a few readers about the poverty factor and how it relates to education in large uban districts like Cleveland. Rather than keep it in the comments section, I figured I would continue the conversation here.

There is a gap in understanding between the educated, working, self-sustaining general population and the reality of the demographics of those who live in poverty. We in the first group tend to feel more comfortable with the poor if we can put a noble or romantic face on them. The laid-off factory worker, the single mother, and the person who has lost everything due to tragedy or illness; these are the poor we like to help, these are good people who have been dealt a cruel blow by the world.

When we assume these people make up the vast majority of Clevelanders who live in poverty, no wonder we are confused when we see some of the poor who don't help themselves, and when given the opportunity, why they don't get involved, or why they do not bootstrap their way into a better position.

Sadly, however, the culture of poverty is not always so honorable. There are many people who are unemployed because they are unemployable. They are the addicts, the sociopaths, the lazy, and the stupid. These people have children, and their children are raised in environments of perpetual dysfunction. If you want to get a glimpse of this culture first hand, simply turn on Jerry Springer or Maury Povitch. This is not a manufactured cultural phenomenon for television. We, the teachers in urban public schools, encounter people like these guests on a regular basis when we make phone calls home, or set up a conference with the parents of students who are having problems in school with behavior, attendance, or learning.

The foul mouthed, abusive, drunk-at-9AM, mother. The father who promised to beat the shit out of his son if the school ever calls again. The kid who needed to bring a parent to school for a conference, and each time would show up with a different one of mom's boyfriends. The girl who did her homework at the tavern where her mother worked turning tricks. The uncle who gave his nephew marijuana to sell at school. The girl whose mother walked into an eighth grade classroom after her daughter was suspended for fighting to beat up the girl her child fought with.
Each of us has more stories than we can recall.

Yes, parental involvement is crucial to a student's education, as long as the parents are good, loving people. Sadly, there are many parents who we would rather not see involved, who are detrimental to to the child.

Simple biology does not in any way insure capability.


Daniella said...


These are pretty courageous words and not politically correct but I know that it is true.

I've seen it but if we have a "lost" generation does it mean that we will also loose the children?

Our welfare system wants to keep parents and children together. They say it is better for the kids. There are not enough foster parents for the current number of children that are neglected. In a study in Minnesota the County Human Services said more children are at risk from neglect than from abuse.

As a teacher I am sure that you must report suspected abuse but how can you do anything for neglected kids? How can we do anything? Conservatives often say that trowing money into the education kitty is not the solution. Substance abuse is definitely causing some of the neglect but why is there so much of it?

Does the city have a plan? It is far more dangerous than the forecasted avian flu pendemic since it is here and undeniable. We are facing eith a huge health issue and the future is usually dependant on new generations. The future does not sound too promissing.

marybeth said...

I hate the politically correct stance that has prohibited the real issues from being addressed.

I work with a large number of children who are damaged, and that is simply what it is.

The causes of the damage are varied, and please let me stress, these types of children are not exclusively found in large urban areas, however, there is certainly a large concentration here. At one time there were social workers in the Cleveland schools, but budget cuts eliminated those programs. Reinstating them would go a long way with helping some of these kids and their families out.

When the politically correct segment of society tries to pretend that everything is just peachy, or when we forget that the kids in our classrooms are not us, that they each have a unique background which may or may not include a supportive adult, then we will never fix anything.

No, throwing money at a problem will not fix it when you haven't identified what is really wrong. There are many, many, problems.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to educating children in the 21st century. What we can do is try to address issues individually, and realistically.

We need to be investing money into the programs we know will work, rather than giving up on everything because there is no silver bullet.

Aisha said...

I can relate to a lot of what you're saying as a former teacher myself.... some of the reasons you list are the reasons I quit.

Aisha said...

wow. I really relate to this as a former teacher who worked in such schools. Its very difficult and stressful.

Aisha said...

oh :) you comment moderate, I kep thtinking my comment was going through. Sorry for multiple comments. X

marybeth said...

Sorry Aisha,

I had a spam problem, so I applied the comment moderation and word verification options. I hope it won't put anyone off, but deleting advertising that originated overseas for products that could enhance intimacy was becoming too time consuming.

Thank you for your comments.

It can be a tough job. I almost quit about eight years ago. Hmmm... You just gave me an idea for a post.

Dale P. said...

The issue I've been raising to my colleagues lately has been how to keep good teachers in the midst of all the problems and issues you've been raising the last couple of posts. Is well-intentioned teaching enough? How do we nurture good teachers when our school climates continue to erode?

marybeth said...

Good question Dale.

Nurturing good teachers needs to begin in the teacher ed programs at the universities. Students who are considering going into the field need to spend even more time in the classroom than they do now. Professors also need to be recent classroom teachers, not escapees from the public schools who have little realistic experience in the day to day school setting.

The key to keeping and/or nurturing good teachers who are already working in the classroom is making sure there are good support systems in the schools for faculty members. Mentoring helps, but adminstrative leadership who back up the staff, and strive to create an atmosphere of support will do even more to build a positive learning environment.

Anonymous said...

I quit the CMSD in June. I just could not take it anymore and I kept opening the Metro section and seeing the name or face of a child I knew. Now I miss the kids and the teaching.

One thing I would like to add to the gneral discussion - this is not a lost generation. These behavior patterns have been repeated for many generations. Crack cocaine may have exacerbated the numbers and the severity of some of the physical disabilities found in the classrooms today, but the poor have always been fucked up and with us.