I recently read a HuffPost article where GOP lawmaker Stacey Campfield wants to tie welfare benefits to student progress. This is actually not the first time I heard this proposal. I was in a class working on my administrative certificate when I was told Texas had done something similar to that. I never researched it, so I’ll count it as talk. If you know something about it, drop me a line. As are some other key issues in education, this one is a hotbed of controversy. I won’t rehash all of the article, but an oversimplification of the argument is that poverty will be broken if parents are made to help their students do well in school.
We who are rational thinking citizens of planet earth (I can’t account for others who are from other galaxies) know there are pros and cons to every proposed bill, law, rule, etc. I would like to start with the pros. In every school, there are teachers, administrators and students. Teachers are held to impossibly high standards for their students’ progress. Administrators are held to some, and parents are held to, okay, I still haven’t quite figured it, and I have multiple degrees in education with over 20 years of experience.
(Some) Parents would be responsible for more than just sending their children out of the door (sometimes they do on time, sometimes not; sometime clean and fed, sometimes not) for the purposes of getting them out of the house. Some parents would have have to actually be participants in their children’s day, and sit down with them to make sure homework gets done. This sounds good, simple and cut-and-dried. Would that life were that simple.
The presumption first of all is that families that receive welfare benefits are primarily Black, Latino and poorly educated. Their pathology is that they were born in the wrong skin, wrong neighborhood, wrong career, wrong aspirations, and a series of wrongs. Contrary to public opinion, many families who receive welfare benefits are of various races and educational backgrounds. How do you feed hungry children and keep a roof over their heads? By any (legal) means necessary.
Those parents that were not successful in school during their formative years probably had some psychological, economic, and maybe even physical challenges that they were not able to overcome. This could have contributed to their current position in life. This particular group of people might have clawed and scrambled through life just to get by.
When people have not been wildly successful in life, usually being able to give birth is seen as a symbol of success. It doesn’t matter to them that they are not as well prepared as they should be to raise contributing citizens in society.
In my mind’s eye, I see this as potentially punitive. Let’s face it, some people endure more in their skin than others. Based on skin color, you can count on more traffic violations, fighting harder for promotions, insidious treatment, and a myriad of other things. Would I want to be the teacher who submits the grades of the students whose mother is working two menial jobs, and is now being threatened with a reduction or elimination of benefits? I don’t think so, but I digress. If this particular group of parents cannot adequately help their children, they might feel beat up on, and possibly feel like failures. The drop out rate could actually increase as a result of this bill.
Some simple, yet straight-forward observations should be considered in proposing such legislation:
- Poverty stems from more than just low-paying jobs. It stems from low perceptions, low expectations, repeated negative experiences and can be transmitted generationally. The short of it…poverty is a mindset. It controls your actions.
- As I stated in a prior post, the way to help children succeed is to help (not punish) their mothers. There are literacy programs and classes, often at low or no cost to improve basic skills.
- Show people an alternative. If you paint a picture vividly enough, it will draw people. Take children and their families on field trips. Show the more positive things of life, entrepreneurship, sprawling mansions, private businesses etc. Those things can be gained by transforming your thinking and developing a plan for success.
This is a much more practical way to assist people who might not have a track record of accomplishments. We can help with that. Some books you might want to read up on: “Other People’s Children,” Lisa Delpit, “Silent Racism,” Tregpanier, “Welfare Racism,”, Newbeck & Cozenave. Those that would rather not try to improve their lives, can then be dealt with punitively. It’s merely my take. Do you feel this is a practical approach?