Nested communities of poverty and wealth

While in college I had the chance to travel to the Phillipines.  It was, as they often say, life changing. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty was beyond ironic, it was blatantly horrific. Shacks housing many families were nested against the walls of luxurious estates, housing one large powerful family.  I even had the dark, comedic experience of seeing all of Imelda Marco’s shoes, lined up flaunting garish color against the grimy grey that saturated the air, clothing and water most of the population consumed.  I remember the thrill of hope I had, as a young political student, when I say Corizon Aquino whirled by in her car and yellow dress.  I hoped she would bring change, justice, just a few more flip flops for the barefooted children, to the Phillipines.  My hope for the Phillipines has flagged as conditions have changed very little in spite of some hopeful revolutionary efforts.  It may be how I feel at times when I consider our own streets, towns, shacks and estates here in Oregon and the United States

In my experience as a teacher, principal and Title I and Title III Teacher on Special Assignment specifically assigned to teacher development regarding our students who are  most in need, I have observed a pattern that nearly “flattens” my usual robust “never-give-up” attitude toward advocating and teaching every child and family well.  No matter, how hard we teach, the economic realities of nested pockets of wealth and poverty serve to isolate both communities from each other.  Communities comprised of economic difference, existing right next to each other often don’t even know the other exist.  Well, it seems often the more affluent community often doesn’t know the less affluent one exist. I moved from a small lower SES community, 5 miles down the road to one with one of the highest SES’s in the state.  When I explained where I moved from, often people didn’t know where that was.  I was shocked.  How could you not know the community just down the street…in your school sport league?  I believe the less affluent community is keenly aware of those next to them.  For the schools in these communities,the realities of the haves and have nots are the brutal facts of everyday life.  The human resource that a more affluent community can provide to the school can be arugued as the difference in the test scores and life opportunity.  Why else did I move to such a community?  I wonder how we can provide these opportunities for all students and avoid the need for families like mine to move.  How can we provide for and value the gifts of communities where families work two to three jobs, don’t even see each other due to shift work, and speak two to three languages;  encourage their kids every day to stay in school, but can’t support their children in their homework past a certain grade.  How can they compete with the tutors, outside experiences, school supplies and technology that the the other community is blessed to provide?

Jennifer L. Hodschule of Harvard Univeristy states in the Journal of Social Issues Vol. 59, No. 4, 2003. p. 821-840 the following regarding these disparities and their high stakes impact: Education largely and increasingly determines an individual’s job choice and income (Danziger & Reed, 1999). It more and more determines whom one will marry (Kalmijn, 1991; Mare, 1991). It has more impact than any other factor, possibly excepting wealth, on whether one participates in politics, what one believes politically, and how much political influence one has (Verba, 2001; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). It is the arena in which the United States has sought to overcome racial domination and class hierarchy, to turn immigrants into Americans, to transform children into responsible citizens, to create and main- tain our democracy (Cremin, 1988; Gutmann, 1987; Kluger, 1975; Spring, 2000; Tyack, 1974).

Further she states:

Most importantly, adults’ life chances depend increasingly on attaining higher education, but the number of young adults completing college has stalled since the 1970s and class background is as important as ever in determining who attends and finishes college (Ellwood & Kane, 2000; Kane, 2001). Over three-quarters of well-off young adults go straight from high school to college, compared with half of poor youth. Well-off students are also more likely to go to a four-year rather than a two-year college (Card & Lemieux, 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 1994).

Hoschild goes on to state that our poor our disproportionately of African Americans or recent immigrants and exist in schools within what she calls “nested inequalities”  Nest of disproportionate instruction, resources, achievement and access within states, districts, schools and classes

“Nested Inqequaities”

“…every student sits at the center of at least four nested structures of inequality and separation – states, districts, schools, and classes.  Well-off or white and Asian parents usually manage to ensure that their children obtain the benefits of this structure; poor and non-Asian minority parents have a much harder time doing so (Mollenkopf, Zeltzer-Zubida, Holdaway, Kasinitz, & Waters, 2002). As a result, the United States has not witnessed the full equality of educational opportunity between classes that one would expect from all the reforms since the 1960s and from Americans’ commitments to equality of opportunity (Hochschild, 1995). ”


I observe these nested inqualities on a daily basis as I drive from the affluent neighborhood we currently are leasing in to other neighborhoods five to 10 miles away.  I also observe within a given district, different school which serve the populations mentioned above.  I believe we know what to do to educate all students well.  I am not sure we have the desperate resolve in place for the how.  I  am sure we need more partnering between communities to address these issues.  My question and challenge is to ask myself and others: how do we bring communities together to care about other people’s children?  How do we value all stories and ways of knowing?  How might we say ” we have a lot of extra in this community…let us share with you?  And then, to avoid the dangers of patrimony that may lead to patronization, how can those who have less material and economic resources teach others and strengthen the whole?

I believe we need each other.  I believe nested inequalities are a type of blindness.  We believe if we just support “our” community we are doing the good we should.  We do not feel a responsibility to partner with other communities if I have given to my school’s foundation, my child’s class.   Seeing each other’s communities or children  is further complicated, from the view point of schools by the tremendous load that is hoisted on all staff and students.  The reduction in funding across the board causes “hoarding” of resources and a mind to look after “your own” more ardently.

I know these are complicated issues, but I also know we must look at them if we are to save ourselves, our communities entire.  If we believe we are ok if “my” community is ok, we fail.  We have bought into an impressive and seductive lie that gives way to oppressive judicial and legal practices to further reinforce the dangers of communities sharing and caring one for another.  I also know, that in a regular human being’s daily life, just managing the well being of your own children can be enough, lifting our heads to see that of another’s seems beyond our strength.  How can we see a way?  How can we hear a way?


As I listen to all people talk, I see pathways to answer the question I posed in the begging.  How can we value the strengths of all communities and balance the resources that our communities with more economic resources provide their schools and children. I listened last night to a mentor and leader of the Albina community of NE Portland.  She helped me see.


Next blog…the strength of the Portland Albina communities.  Reflections from Race Talks.




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