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Education and Poverty: The Conversation that Doesn’t Exist

“When you live in a poor neighborhood, you are living in an area where you have poor schools. When you have poor schools, you have poor teachers. When you have poor teachers, you get a poor education. When you get a poor education, you can only work in a poor-paying job. And that poor-paying job enables you to live again in a poor neighborhood. So, it’s a very vicious cycle.”—Malcolm X

The truth about poverty is how profitable low-income people are to those who are not. They are deemed highly valuable to the profit margins of major corporations and their stakeholders, a commodity like no other.

Poverty is a condition strategically placed upon a demographic of people to yield a return on an investment that would garner a lifetime of dependability on goods and services provided by a segment of individuals who are constantly and consistently stirring the pot of social and economic instability.

For decades, people ranging from journalists to sociologists, authors to presidential administrations have studied poverty and its effects on people. Unfortunately, the problem not only still exists—the number of people living in poverty is the worst it has been in over 50 years.

Poverty in New Orleans is made worse by a steadily rising cost of living, accompanied by a decline or stagnation in wages and the persistence of low-paying jobs. A recent story highlights a report by HousingNOLA found that while rent has jumped 50 percent from 2000 to 2013, the average household income remained the same during this period.

The progression of poverty is fast paced in New Orleans.

In Louisiana, 19.8 percent of its residents live in poverty and in New Orleans that figure is 27 percent. Louisiana is the third poorest state in the nation.

Yet another disturbing number is that 39 percent of school aged children in New Orleans live in poverty. Poverty creates a barrier to children’s ability to learn; we as a society cast a blind eye to it in hopes that it will go away.

In his poem, “Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil,” Joshua T. Dickerson describes the damaging effects of poverty:

I woke myself up

Because we ain’t got an alarm clock

Dug in the dirty clothes basket,

Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform

Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,

Cause the lights ain’t on

Even got my baby sister ready,

Cause my mama wasn’t home.

Got us both to school on time,

To eat us a good breakfast.

Then when I got to class the teacher fussed

Cause I ain’t got no pencil

But if poverty is the transgressor, education is the great equalizer.

We need vigilant awareness from communities as to the effects that the disease of poverty has on our children. We must seek out open and candid conversations, and force them into the agendas that oppressive institutions don’t want to have. We should aim to return to socially aware teaching and provide curriculums that focus on individualized development and common sense, not competitive learning and Common Core. We need increased accessibility to wraparound services that help develop young minds outside of classroom instruction. These are just a few priorities that must accompany education to combat the numbing effects of poverty.

First, we must admit we have a problem. Poverty isn’t the boogeyman under the bed; it isn’t a silent killer.

Poverty is an 800-pound gorilla. The elephant in the room with no respect or regard for anyone. Poverty arrogantly pushes its selfish agenda in plain sight. And we naïvely make room for it, living with the stench that poverty produces.

Poverty as it relates to education must be addressed. It has to be called out and faced head on. It has to be eliminated from the halls of our schools and left at the doorstep to rot. To end socioeconomic inequality, there has to be a collaborative effort between schools, families and communities.

Despite the ills we face, we are a resilient society and the time has come to cure the ills of poverty by any means necessary.

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