Turning In: Musings on The Poverty Mentality and Early Education

4 Jan

Sitting with the kids in the car outside Tim Horton’s yesterday, listening to The Adventures of The Little Mermaid book-on-CD for the bazillionth time, my mind began to wander.  We were tired.  We’d been skating out at the Victoria Park Oval.  We’d gotten up early to prepare for the work-week resuming and were filled with the excitement/dread of getting back to reality the following day.

Mike was buying coffee for me and hot chocolate for the kids.  The car was warm.  The narrator’s voice vaguely British and soothing….

I’d chatted with someone the afternoon previous about a woman we both loved and respected.  How she had survived so much and remained indefatigably positive.  Optimistic.  The physical embodiment of grace.  And how, now, when faced with her own mother’s death, she had That Voice.  That kicked-in-the-gut Voice that quietly tells all who will listen that things are so very bad, so achingly bad.  And that they won’t get better for a long time.

Someone I love very much knows that Voice too intimately.  Most of her life it could be heard beneath her laughter, above her tears.  I’ve heard that voice from adult ESL students, from colleagues, and even from children who have passed through my life.  It hurts, That Voice.  And I’ve struggled with turning away or providing comfort, with abdicating responsiblity or risking offense.  With taking their pain for my own so we both can bear it.  Except we know that doesn’t work, right?  Spreading the pain around doesn’t make it thinner, lighter, more forgiving.  It’s just more pain to bear.

I applied to grad school without any expectation of being accepted.  I wrote an intellectual biography and entrance essay that broadly addressed the goals of becoming a better care provider, parent and tutor via greater understanding of the socio-political basis of our education policies, theories and outcomes.  Broadly because I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.  I had no idea what I wanted.  I mean, four years of business school taught me well how poorly designed I am for business.  I was, um, optimistic that grad school wouldn’t have the same result.

In the warm car with tired legs and drifting kids and Ursula the Sea Witch plotting her revenge….  I thought about how That Voice is most often heard from those who know hunger with painful intimacy.  And how endemic the poverty mentality has always been in our low income communities, both naturalized and immigrant.  And how we teach it to our kids, That Voice, and systemically limit their options in order to protect them from a world that has hurt us so badly.

What if we could make it better?

Are our early learning programs effective that way?  Are we helping our three and four year olds build trust relationships?  Are we protecting them from suspicion and fear?  What about grade school?  Are we connecting with these kids?  Are we fostering optimism via mentorship opportunities and helping them find ways to be successful?  Is it even our place to do that, as educators and volunteers?  What are the ethics, here?

And in the community, how are we reaching out to new immigrants?  How are we breaking this cycle?  Historically, new unskilled residents disappear into micro-countries of people from back home.  And while I know, as a black woman in a predominantly white community, what a comfort it can be to look up and see people who look like me, I remember the heckling one of my ESL students took from her own family some years ago:

“You think you’re better than us?  You need to read and write like a white person?”

You think you’re better than us?

I don’t have enough information.  Last night, I lay awake for hours.  Brain spinning.  An email from one of my dayhome parents gave me much to think about in terms of parenting strategies and behaviour management.  Leaving me to wonder again about how negative attitudes can be mediated in care environments, and how integral is that child-careprovider connection.  And how sometimes it is nearly impossible to maintain.

I don’t have enough information.

On my pillow, I thought about swim strokes and body position in the water.  I thought about watching my Bug and my Princess slip around on their skates and their giddy, grinning joy.  Their concept of “can’t” is severely limited, right now, and I am so grateful.  They understand “not yet” and “when I’m older”.  But not “can’t”.  Not, yet.  I thought about That Voice, that kick-in-the-gut we carry with us everywhere when we’re poor.  That “Can’t”.

How can we make it go away?

I need more information.

Belle wrote not long ago about that creative spark, and how we find it.  When I read her post, I didn’t know how to respond.  I mean, doesn’t it just come?

No.

I think, for me, the spark evades until I’m turning in so that the distractions of getting through the day, of walking through this life, can just glide past me.  I need to turn in, to get out of my own way.

Grad school starts in six days.

—–

I’m a corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, and life looking after other people’s kids, over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

5 Responses to “Turning In: Musings on The Poverty Mentality and Early Education”

  1. Heidi Nevin January 4, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Beautiful!!! Wow. Thank you so much. This is so important. Congratulations on starting grad school! Please write more for us………

    • DesiValentine January 4, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Thanks, Heidi! I am equal parts excited and terrified about grad school. And I do look forward to writing more for you 🙂

  2. natasha devalia January 4, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Hey Desi,

    Thanks for that strong and inspiring post. As always.

    I often heard the “we’ll see,” and “it’s not possible,” lines growing up. Funny that you brought it up. I’d never managed to cognize these feelings, but I think that I’ve been trying hard to change the attitude within me- it’s embedded deeply though.

    At the same time, I have an optimistic – anything is possible side. At least that’s what I impart to my brothers, and children. At least I consciously try, and have noticed clashes in my head.

    I can recognize that mental “limitation” in people around me too.

    All interesting and confusing.

    I’d love to hear more from your research on this topic.

    N

    • DesiValentine January 4, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Thanks, Natasha! I never heard “impossible” as a child. My mum made a point of telling me often, for as long as I can remember, that there is nothing I cannot do if I work hard and accept the consequences. And, yet, that message stopped around the time my siblings were born, and both of them (both much younger than me) seem to struggle with self-imposed limitations…. WOW! So much to think about, research and study! And, yes, lots more to write about, too 😉

      • natasha devalia January 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

        Hey Desi,

        The “impossible” was never on personal achievements, it was more if big money was involved. My mother tried her best to create circumstances to let us do more than she did. She strongly values humility.
        I wonder if it is also something that became cultural, something passed on from ancestors who couldn’t afford as much as the younger generations, and now us. So there is always caution, apprehension, even if the object is reachable.

        Anyways, before I type out any more non-sense,

        I’m really looking forward to more on this topic – especially from your angle as a mum and a child care provider.

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