Last week, I spoke extensively about one student who had some serious behavioral problems in his classroom, and how that’s a microcosm of what he’s going through at home. Whenever I look at kids like him, I know how to approach them because I’ve been witness to that environment. Unfortunately, because of program restrictions, I no longer work with the child after-school, but best believe I’m still paying attention to his progress.
After all, many of our children come from environmentally abusive backgrounds, and environmental issues in the urban ghetto usually get glossed over. People are quick to blame their environment on the victim when almost all of the evidence shows that our condition stems from oppressive policies stemming back to when this country was first founded. It’s hard to point a finger when the policies don’t just stem from one particular face, but a whole institution. That’s the critical part of understanding how our children can be constantly subjected to the road less wanted.
For instance, people blame poor urban families for their own health issues, everything from diabetes, heart failure, asthma, obesity, and high blood pressure. Yet, the foods we get here are usually in poor condition. I thought the food here was alright, until I visited the Farmer’s Market on 14th St., where I was astonished to see real and fresh vegetables. Real lettuce, with actually red tomatoes, and truly green broccoli and ripe pickles. Natural apple juice, and freshly picked oranges. Usually the first stop that these items make is the more affluent places, where the customers presumably live a healthier lifestyle but conversely where the produce makers will make top dollar for their produce. Meanwhile, a poor urban mother could a) settle for the less than pleasurable and unkempt vegetable aisle or b) go to the canned foods and boxed food aisles. After all, processed foods are much cheaper than organic food, even when the organic food’s quality has been severely diminished.
Then there’s the issues our children’s parents go through. Imagine all the history of denigration they’ve gone through: Reaganomics, crack infestation, needle and blue cap infiltration, gun warfare, massive rape and abuse, police brutality, immigration, English acclamation and retention, prison industrial complex promotions, rent hikes, gentrification, asbestos paint, lead-tainted water, declining hospital service, and abject poverty … and that’s just in my neighborhood.
Many of them have a good from 8-6, then come home and work on their families until 11pm. We have Third World conditions right here in America, and Hurricane Katrina only highlighted that temporarily. Little do people know that the Lower 9th Ward wasn’t pretty before the Hurricane, so what does that say about America’s response to places like that, Watts in California, East St. Louis, Southside of Chicago, Chinatown in NYC, and a thousand other places where poor children of all colors are all subjected to a lack of money and hence care.
Yet, when the children get to school, malnourished and uncared for, they act out. They’re acting out, stealing from each other and screaming at their teachers. Of course, that’s when teachers and administrators who don’t understand where these loveless children come from want to treat them for every possible disorder and dysfunction on Earth. I admit that some of them that do come from this background really need more substantial help than any teacher in the current public school system can offer. Many of these children don’t really have a disorder, and it’s been proven that if you just talk to some of these kids like human beings, those disorders start going away. And even if they’re not getting mistreated for some disability, they’re getting mistreated in the classroom. Some people who don’t belong near a classroom but see the value in looking like they’re making a difference let their inherent classism and racism shine brightest and thus build mistrust for an education for kids who need it.
None of this is new. To the contrary, the miseducation of our youth has gone on for centuries. And people wonder why poor people won’t take out loans to get a new home since money’s meant nothing but trouble for them. Pregnancy and STI prevention information isn’t a deterrent to those who have no self-esteem or self-worth. Thug rap went from reporting what’s going on in the streets to just living life on the fast lane because there’s no future so they live for the present. Colleges are easier to get into but harder to successfully get out of with the increasingly expensive tuitions and steady drop of governmental financial aid (which works well for a booming college loan market). With slave wages for the increasing population of immigrants from the West, South, AND East and a depreciating job market, it’s no wonder why the rich continuously get richer while the rest of us unknowingly have remained on the same plateau of poverty.
The one argument that everyone uses against me when I discuss these multifaceted issues is “But Jose, you made it. You lived in the same environment these people did, and yet look at you now. You’re successful and have a promising future. Why can’t they make it?” And usually, this person either comes from a household where the parents are successful and have been for generations, or a family whose grandparents were successful, and that story didn’t pass onto the person who asked me.
Their point usually starts with how some families they’ve seen concentrate more on getting 200$ sneakers an rims for their cars instead of investing in the stock market. They’ll see people rockin’ gold chains and wearing inappropriate clothing wherever they go. What I also believe they see is exactly what they want to see and not what’s truly there.
I contend that the factors that led me to where I am today were nothing short of fortunate. I had a mother who, with her flaws, pushed me in the right direction, a set of schools that were top-notch in their own respect, whether private or public, a good amount of people who believed in my own ability, and a genetic intelligence and stubbornness that could have prevented me from making some of the decisions I made but they did. If anything in this paradigm fell out of place, I wouldn’t have been as successful.
These opportunities I’ve worked hard for and have been granted haven’t made me any more complicit with what’s around me. I still struggle with different health issues like many of my neighborhood brethren do, and it’s something that I have more information on now. People don’t often break that seal until they’ve tasted a certain echelon of society. I am a firm believer in self-determination and making something out of nothing, but that’s exactly it. I don’t believe in alchemy. As a math person, I think there are simple solutions to some of the problems that afflict us, and it’ll be worth it if we can find those solutions.
Not everyone’s has been as fortunate as I am, though, which is why I fight for them. The images we see of the bling and the pomp are usually a very small percentage of truly poor people, and that’s what we don’t really see. Many of the little gadgets we see the kids have are second hand illegal devices, and liquor stores on every corner surface because it’s the one legal potion people use to get away from their daunting troubles. Change doesn’t happen by just sitting there; we need to be that change.
jose, a proud supporter of blog action day …