Sunday, 7 June 2015

How do we alleviate poverty in our schools?

Whatever I had read as a child about the saints had thrilled me. I could see the nobility of giving one’s life for the sick, the maimed, the leper. But there was another question in my mind. Why was so much done in remedying the evil instead of avoiding it in the first place? Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just to minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?
 -Dorothy Day

I was really struck by this quote from Dorothy Day this week.  I feel conflicted.  We are trying to do our best for the students we work with in a poorer part of a city dominated by families from a whole variety of countries of the Global South.  But are we making any difference?  Do we ever raise above charity to really promote social justice.

Last week, I listened to Joel Westheimer at the University of Ottawa.  He made the excellent point that few schools really focus on social justice - we are great at charity - boxes of clothing, extra school supplies at the beginning of the year, money for families in dire need of groceries, etc.  But what are we doing to really change the level of poverty in our city?

This is a very uncomfortable question - it reminds me of the quote by Dom Helder Camara

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Alleviating poverty or even making an even playing field is just something we don't talk about.  Some schools  have vibrant parent volunteer committees and really substantial financial reserves due to their fundraising efforts.  Other schools struggle to engage their parents and have no reserves to spend on the extras that make school a more holistic experience for students.

I have spent years working on issues of poverty and inequality in the Global South.  Until this year, I have not realized how great the inequality exists right here in this city.

What is the solution?  How do we level the playing field?

I really don't know, but I would love to hear from others who have some ideas on this and I would like to start a real dialogue on this topic over social media.

What I have discovered is that poverty and social justice are not well understood.  The ideals of social justice are never spoken about and there is no concerted effort to bring about true equality in most schools.

What I have found is that if you want to mobilize people to really do something you have to work extremely hard and make connections within charitable foundations and the business community. Interesting, it seems to be that certain foundations and businesses have a much clearer understanding of social justice than educators.  

There is a problem with this.  I always thought that school districts should be advocates for social justice and stand in opposition to policies that increase inequality.  There are certainly some wonderful groups out there that do this.

I realize that if I am going to work for my school I will need to work harder to develop these linkages.  One has to realize that to speak openly about the a lack of social justice could lead to the same kind of condemnation that Don Helder Camara writes about.  There are so many other ways to marginalize a voice.

Can we start a dialogue on this?  Or will we just stand back and be satisfied with the status quo?  I hope not, I hope people want to talk about this.