SES-ism-Recognizing and Naming the Multiple Impacts of Low Socio-Economic Status on Our Students, Y Kelly, C Logan, L Aihoshi

Tags: poor students, understanding, Toronto District School Board, Community, stereotypes, Gorski, discrimination, inequities, YRDSB, system, socio-economic groups, School Climate committees, adequate wages, Equity Strategy Staff Action Team, Poor parents, value education, Framework for Understanding Poverty, class bias, economic status, poverty problem, income students, educational opportunities, Inclusive School and Community Services Team, policy statement, living in poverty, ism, ISMS, Yvonne Kelly, SES, personal biases, ISCS, Inclusive Schools and Community Services, Equity Policy Statement, Inclusivity, Culture of Poverty, students, Socio-Economic Status
Content: SES -"ism" - Recognizing and Naming the Multiple Impacts of Low Socio-Economic Status on Our Students By: Yvonne Kelly, Camille Logan and Linda Aihoshi Introduction The focus of this Paper is to assist participants in understanding, identifying and working together to eliminate the biases, barriers and power dynamics specific to poverty, that severely limit students' prospects for learning, growing and fully contributing to society. "SES" ism or Socio Economic Status ISM is bias or discrimination against individuals who are living in poverty. SES ism is not just words that are spoken; it is about the embedded nature of bias in our systems, policies and the ways in which people are thought of, limited and/or excluded in society. To understand and challenge the dynamics which underlie and threaten students' well-being, Academic Achievement and future potential, we must examine the broader systemic realities of marginalized groups. "SES" ism, prevents those marginalized by poverty from moving ahead and it persists mainly because of lack of understanding and knowledge. We need to confront SES ism and eliminate its stranglehold on our learners and their families. The First Step is acknowledging its existence within our schools, our communities and beyond. We need to believe "SES ism" exists and realize its impact - then and only then we can begin to take action. It is important to distinguish between Poverty and SESism. Poverty is a set of limiting economic and social conditions. SESism includes a set of beliefs propagated about the poor, attitudes, judgements and biases that validate the exclusion and ongoing struggles experienced by those in poverty and it promotes stereotypes that serve to blame those who are living in poverty. SESism includes the masking and minimizing of poverty and inequity, the breeding ground for reasons to blame the poor and is the author of the idea that "You Get what you Deserve." SES ism justifies discrimination on the basis of Meritocracy. All "ISMS" intersect in powerful ways, reinforcing each other and producing multiple inequities for our students and families. You cannot talk about racism and sexism without acknowledging SES ism and the role it plays in perpetuating other isms and vice versa. To address these inequities we must have a deeper analysis of the roots of oppression. Uninformed strategies will not attain the outcomes we seek, and can often do more harm than good. The analysis begins with each individual and our own personal biases ­ we all have them Ben Levin says it best: "We all hold stereotypes and unjustified assumptions about other groups. Recognition of personal biases should be seen for what it is--an opportunity for growth." (Glaze, Mattingly and Levin, 2011) "If our organizations are to improve, assiduous attention to our own values, beliefs, and expectations is a prerequisite. Understanding our own conditioning and mindsets, biases and 1
prejudices, is an essential component of the equity agenda. Equity work begins with self and then moves outward." (Glaze, Mattingly and Levin, 2011) Poverty in Canada and in Ontario specifically, has been perpetually under-acknowledged. When we deny the existence and impacts of poverty, we remain unaware of how we perpetuate SES ism (biased and often unconscious attitudes toward the poor) in our daily work with students and families. Poverty is a violation of human rights, however individuals are not currently protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code from discrimination based on socio-economic status. This paper will highlight current practices and intentions within our Board and it will further the discourse on what is necessary to adequately address SES ism and its impact on students by drawing on examples from other places. Initial Steps 1. Redressing the powerful ideological grip that SESism has on all of us begins with providing education. 2. Calling SES ism what it really is - CLASSISM. 3. De-Bunking the Myths that Perpetuate Poverty and SES ism. 4. Looking at our own Biases. 5. Recognizing the Ways in which the Stigma of Poverty differs from other ISMS. A significant distinction between Poverty and other biases is that with poverty THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO CELBRATE, EVER. There are no cultural foods, no special dress or holidays, no relationships at the centre of your life that are improved when you are brave enough to talk about it. Admitting to one's poverty doesn't make it easier to walk down the street with head held high, it doesn't make going to the food bank any more pleasant and it may likely even invite more criticism. The preferred coping mechanism for those living in poverty is to keep it as hidden as possible. "Poverty is like Punishment for a Crime you didn't Commit" Eli Khamarov (deGroot-Maggetti, 2008) 1. Recognizing how the Poor remain a Target of public outcry, blame and criticism. a. People in poverty are magnets for hatred in our society. They are still fair game for slurs, character assassinations, back handed comments and sharp ridicule. As long as the mainstream continues to promote the idea that the poor are a burden on the rest of us, there will be blatant and subtle acceptance of overt discrimination which one can witness every day. 2
b. The prevailing belief that the poor are without income through some fault of their own contributes to society's growing preference for food banks over adequate wages, wherein we decide for people what they will eat, how much, where they will be able to access it and when. 2. Making it a matter of Human Rights: Students and parents need to hear from our schools that SES ism does exist, that is as hurtful, wrong, and as unacceptable as sexism, racism and homophobia, and that it will not be tolerated in any form. 3. Questioning Some of our Current Practices: What happens when a school does a food drive for "the poor?" What are the children within that classroom whose families visit the food bank themselves feeling and experiencing as we talk about poverty but fail to acknowledge the reality that exists for them. They won't admit that their family is in that position, for fear of the shame and judgement they might experience. Because we offer little to no explanation of the economic barriers facing many families, we marginalize an entire segment of our student population. 4. Watching our Language: How often do you hear someone talking about "poorly behaved, poor kids", "those uninvolved parents"? Derogatory language masks blatant stereotypes. A careful examination of what we are saying, assuming, how we are talking about people and among our peers is essential. Myths About Poverty The beginning of understanding is often a process of Un-Learning what we think we already know about something. The mythology that persists in Canada is that we don't have a poverty problem "really". Denial serves to reinforce the belief that only a small number of people are affected, leading one to believe that it is due to the deficiencies and poor choices of individuals, instead of larger systemic problems. With that said, we will now focus on common myths, stereotypes and assumptions about students and families that fuel the predominant discourse and reinforce false assumptions that we hold about people in poverty. 1. Poor People: · Are unmotivated and Have Weak Work Ethics. · Are linguistically deficient. · Tend to abuse drugs and alcohol. 3
2. Poor parents are: · Less interested in and value education less. · Less adequate and require additional parenting education. · Not spending wisely and could make better choices. 3. Low ­ income students can't learn or succeed. This results in misplaced sympathy, lower expectations and discouraging messages to students. 4. When students are not admitting to poverty in their household, they are probably not affected by it. Most students will not admit to poverty and often make excuses or don't take information home to avoid putting more pressure on their parents when they know money is scarce. (Gorski, 2008) The Culture of Poverty ­ or the Myth of the Culture of Poverty ­ YOU DECIDE Many resources available on how to work with poor students and families fail to acknowledge the barriers, biases and entrenched power dynamics that produce poverty in the first place, serving to perpetuate the conditions in which racism, sexism and homophobia are also tolerated and to maintain the status quo where power and privilege are only shared among a few. Culture of Poverty Framework It's critical to examine Ruby Payne's Framework for Understanding Poverty as it has had profound influence on schools and educators across North America. However, critics of her Culture of Poverty Framework say that Payne's analysis and prescriptions are not informed by class nor does it challenge the systemic conditions that create poverty. They offer that Payne's framework which speaks to a common value and belief set of people living in poverty serves to reinforce false stereotypes and blame the victim for being in poverty instead of poverty and classism being at fault. Researchers around the world have tested the "culture of poverty" concept empirically and others analyzed the overall body of evidence regarding the culture of poverty paradigm. These studies agree that: "There is no such thing as a culture of poverty. Differences in values and behaviors among poor people are just as great as those between poor and wealthy people." (Gorski, 2008) Culture of Classism - A New Framework CLASS ­ "On a Structural level class is different from other forms of oppression such as racism, ageism and sexism. Class is just not a factor in inequalities of wealth, privilege and power; it is that inequality. Other forms of oppression help keep the hierarchy of power in place; Class is that hierarchy." (Bishop, 2002) 4
· The myth of a "culture of poverty" distracts us from a dangerous culture that does exist--the culture of classism. It takes attention away from what people in poverty do have in common: inequitable access to basic human rights.
· Adopting the Deficit Theory (in which we may be complicit) reduces the likelihood that we will support authentic antipoverty policies. If we believe that poor people don't value education, then we avoid responsibility for redressing the gross inequities in education.
· In our determination to "fix" the mythical culture of poor students, we ignore the ways in which our society cheats them out of opportunities that their wealthier peers take for granted. We ignore the fact that poor people suffer disproportionately the effects of nearly every major social ill and lack access to conditions that limit their full potential. Regardless of how much students in poverty value education, they must overcome tremendous inequities to learn. (Gorski, 2008)
"When we are fighting the other forms of oppression, sooner or later we come up against class.
This is usually the point where we hit real resistance. Those who already have wealth and
power in our society are often ready to accept a change of attitude but not our attempts to
redistribute wealth."
(Bishop, 2002)
"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made." Nelson Mandela (deGroot-Maggetti, 2008) Examples of Class Bias in the School System · Intellectual work is inherently superior to physical labour. · Little or no mention in the curriculum of how working class people--including the labour movement--have contributed toward creating a more equitable and humane society. · Attaching stereotypes to socio-economic class. · The assumption that academically successful students should pursue professional careers rather than skilled trades. · The undue emphasis on competition as opposed to collective and co-operative efforts in student activities and in evaluation procedures.
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· The assumption that students are financially able to afford athletic wear, bus tickets, field trips, school supplies, pizza days, etc. place financially unable students in difficult positions for which their reasoning or explanations can vary in explanation: (Toronto District school board). Evidence suggest it is still economic status and family make-up which ultimately have the most influence on which students have the opportunity to achieve their academic or economic potential. (deGroot-Maggetti, 2008) This is not to minimize the efforts in our schools but without critical thinking we cannot expect significant change to happen, relegating the dream of all children reaching their potential, to just that - a DREAM. Critical thinking in addition to comprehensive wrap around programs and support as demonstrated in successful school models presented in Jensen's book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, are essential tools in addressing the inequities of poverty, so that students can begin to focus on the educational opportunities before them. "Until your school (and system) find ways to address the social, emotional, and health-related challenges that your kids face every day, academic excellence is just a politically correct but highly unlikely goal." (Jensen, 2009) School alone, cannot overcome the class driven economic and societal barriers that perpetuate poverty. Perhaps the greatest myth of all is the one that dubs education the "great equalizer." Without considerable Change, it can do nothing of the sort. (Gorski, 2008) Consider the Following Recommendations: Education and Consciousness Raising · Assess/ Correct our own Biases. · Educate/Inform our practices about poverty and class. · Conduct in-service training about the issues/impacts of poverty in your community. A Whole School Approach · Identify and recognize poverty in our schools and name it as easily as we talk about poverty in the third world. · Confront bullying toward and/ or stereotyping of low-income students by other students or fellow teachers--just as you would for other vulnerable groups. · Fight to keep low-income students from being assigned unjustly to special education or low academic tracks. · Examine proposed corporate-school partnerships, rejecting those that require the adoption of specific curriculums or pedagogies. 6
Classroom Strategies that Strip Away Stereotypes · Validate with respect the living reality of students that are living in poverty. · Increase cooperative learning opportunities where comparisons and stereotypes are less common. · Utilize an assets based approach. · Reject Deficit theory. · Never assume that all students have equitable access to such learning resources as computers and the Internet; don't assign work requiring this access without providing in-school time to complete it. · Ensure that learning materials do not stereotype poor people. · Make curriculum relevant to poor students, drawing on and validating their experiences and intelligences. · Teach about issues related to class and poverty--including consumer culture, the dissolution of labor unions, environmental injustice and about movements for class equity. · Speak to the Opportunity Gap that exist for Students instead of Achievement Gaps. · Invite colleagues to observe our teaching for signs of class bias. Outreach to Families · Make school involvement accessible to all families. · *Continue reaching out to low-income families even when they appear unresponsive (without assuming, if they are unresponsive, that we know why). A Social Justice Approach · Include lessons about leaders in Anti-Poverty, Human Rights and Social Justice Work. · Involve ourselves in work to challenge poverty, its constructs and its ideology. · Engage students, parents and communities to talk about social justice; encourage students to have a social justice analysis and provide opportunities for students to talk about and take action to address issues in their own back yards. (Gorski, 2008) 7
An Example from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) "The TDSB has approved an Equity Policy Statement which requires that ideals related to anticlassism and socio-economic equity be reflected in all aspects of organizational structure, policies, guidelines, procedures, classroom practices, day-to-day operations, and communication practices." (Toronto District School Board) "These shall reflect the diverse viewpoints, needs, and aspirations of community members, particularly those of socio-economic groups whose voices traditionally and systemically have been marginalized and excluded." (Toronto District School Board) The decision to incorporate Anti-Classism and Socio-Economic Equity in the policy statement of the TDSB reflects an understanding of how socio-economic status affects our power, determine the shapes of our lives and how class bias can have significant implications for students' sense of self-worth, and for what and how they learn. (Toronto District SB) YRDSB ­ Priorities at Present Embedding Equity and Inclusivity within the Curriculum, school plans, School Climate committees and existing equity committees are priorities of the YRDSB. As a result new avenues of support, staffing and resources have been committed to make these priorities a reality. An excellent example of this is the creation of the new Inclusive Schools and Community Services (ISCS) Unit. ISCS Unit and Initiatives 1. Community Resource Facilitators: Develop partnerships with the Community and service providers to increase access to services, programs and extra-curricular opportunities in schools. 2. Teacher Liaisons Support the schools and work with students and families on identified academic needs. They bridge the existing language and cultural gaps for families. 3. A New Teacher Liaison Position has been created to address barriers experienced by marginalized students and to provide education and support to the broader system. 4. Reception Centre Staff work directly with newcomers to support their transition to a new country and into a new school system. 5. Performance Plus Schools: Taking a universal approach to helping all students, in schools identified for having a higher percentage of family households living in poverty. 6. Collaborative work between the Inclusive School and Community Services Team and the Equity Strategy Staff Action Team (ESSAC) to expand our capacity. 7. Increased utilization of Social Justice Resources in the School and Classrooms. 8
8. ISCS UNIT participating in Anti-Oppression Training, group facilitation and Workshop Training and Team Building in preparation for supporting the broader system to realize the goals of equitable and inclusive education for all students. Building upon the Foundational Equity and Inclusivity Work which our Board is Engaged in ­ We Could Continue to be Innovative in our Work in the following Ways: 1. Add Classism to the list of biases and discrimination that will not be tolerated in our schools. 2. Create professional development opportunities as well as training for students and parents to broaden the understanding of all ISMS and the roots of oppression. 3. Utilize Community Members of our Equity and Inclusivity Action Committee (EIAC) to promote understanding of marginalized groups. 4. YRDSB can continue to have a high profile Voice at Human Services Planning Board of York Region advocating for the needs of low-income learners and their families and highlighting how when un-checked, poverty diminishes the impact of education for students from low-income families, putting them at even further disadvantage from their peers. 5. Establish a New Framework for understanding and addressing the Impacts of Poverty and SESism / Classism, on our Learners. In Conclusion To be successful in eradicating discrimination of any stripe and to provide equitable opportunities for all learners, requires that we take a stand and be committed to the work at all levels ­ in the classroom, in our schools, in the larger community and at the planning and policy levels. We can expose and redress the impacts and barriers of SES ism or Classism but only if we are actively and consciously involved in Change at all levels simultaneously. We leave you with Three Challenges..... "Showing respect for the unique challenges faced by low-income students can be the difference between educational achievement and dropping out." Paul Gorski: The Myths of the Culture of Poverty (Gorski 2008) "If a country wants higher average levels of educational achievement among its school children it must address the underlying inequality which creates a deeper social gradient in educational achievement." The Spirit Level - Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett ­ The Spirit Level (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009) "Courage my friends, `tis not too late to Make a Better World" Tommy Douglas, Father of Medicare in Canada (Lam, 2011) 9
REFERENCES Bishop, Anne. (2002), Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People (Second Edition). Blackpoint, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing. Covell, K., & Howe, B. (2001) The Challenge of Children's Right for Canada. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. de-Groot-Magetti, G. (2008) Envisioning A Canada Without Poverty. Ottawa: Citizens for Public Justice. elementary teachers' Federation of Ontario. (2011) Poverty and Schools in Ontario ­ How Seven elementary schools are working to Improve Education. Toronto: ETFO. Glaze, A., Mattingley, R. & Levin, B. (2011), Breaking Barriers: Equity and excellence for all. Toronto: Pearson. Gorski, P. (2008), The Myth of the Culture of Poverty. Poverty and Learning: Volume 65, Number 7, pp 32-36. Jensen, E. (2009) Teaching With Poverty in Mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Lam, Vincent. (2011) Tommy Douglas (Extraordinary Canadians).Toronto: Penguin Books. Nelson, G., Pancer, M., Hayward, K., & Peters, R. Partnerships for Prevention ­ The Story of the Highfield Community Enrichment Project. Toronto: Toronto Press. Ontario Common Front. (2012) Falling Behind ­ Ontario's Backslide into Widening Inequality, Growing Poverty and Cuts to Social Program. Toronto: Ontario Common Front and Ontario Health Coalition. Payne, R. (1996) A Framework for Understanding Poverty (Fourth Edition). Highlands Texas: aha! Process, Inc. Pearson, T., & Kelly, Y. (2010) Behind the Masks: Testimonials from Those Marginalized by Income. A Report on the Interfaith social assistance Reform Coalition Social Audit in York Region. Regional Municipality of York. (2011) Human Services Planning Board of York Region Document: Making Ends Meet in York Region. Newmarket, ON. Schorr, L.,& Schorr, D. (1988) Within our Reach ­ Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage. New York: Doubleday. Toronto District School Board. (n.d.) Toronto District School Board Equity Policy. Anti-Classism and Socio-Economic Equity. Retrieved September 20, 2012 from E:\QUEST\TDSB\Anti-Classism and Socio-Economic Equity.mht Toronto District School Board. (2005) Challenging Class Bias ­ TDSB Resource for working with grades 7- 12. Wilkinson, R. & Pickett, K. (2009), The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin Group. WEBSITES Conference Board of Canada www.conferenceboardofcanada.ca Teaching Tolerance in the Classroom www.teachingtolerance.org 10

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