After reading a recent article titled, “High Quality Pre-School Isn’t an Option for Children In Poverty”, I felt my passion and purpose stirred. Not because of the unjust reality being described, but the verdict-like obsolete statement that quality pre-school isn’t an option for children living in poverty. While I understand the statement is made to depict a reality, I think we need to shift our view. It is said that we create and perpetuate what we focus our attention on. Why not raise awareness of the problem by offering innovative ideas that promote hope and joy, that motivate people to want to make a change?
I was born and raised in Mexico City, daughter to an American English teacher and a Mexican Sales Representative of a Japanese Air Line based in Mexico City. I am bilingual and multicultural. I have experienced a plethora of cultures and idiosyncrasies. I have lived in three different countries and taught Languages in the entire K-12 spectrum in all three. I have four children ages three to thirteen who are tricultural and bilingual. My children and I have experienced a total of fifteen different schools in three different countries, public and private. I have done so as a student, parent and teacher. We have shared schooling experiences with close-to the entire spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds in Spain, Mexico and The United States. Consequently, my global perspective affords me a different analysis, where I am not grounded or attached to any one system of values, culture or socialization process.
Currently, my children are in the American Public School system in Atlanta, Georgia. They are in Title I schools with a high population of Hispanic children who, fit the profile so aptly described by this article, if one is not able to detach from a moderately-typical, rational (and thus extremely linear), American, college-educated, point of view and examine things from another angle.
In other words, the word “quality” has a completely different meaning for the “us”, the people analyzing and studying the “poverty culture” than it does for the people living in poverty. I may be wrong, but when we talk about the children and their families living in poverty, we use the pronoun “they” and generally, speak for them. These families have not outlined in first person what “quality” means for them. Are we simply looking at the “achievement gap” in terms of…performance on tests, or are we concerned with the well-being and balanced existence of these communities and their definition of a better life? Naturally, we will find that culturally, definitions of success and quality vary.
I am making the assumption that when “quality programs” are mentioned, the comparison of “quality” stems from a Pre-School program targeted for a homogenous group of (primarily white) affluent American children whose reality hardly mirrors that of a low-income or minority child. Hence, the assumption is flawed to begin with; a replica of a high-quality Pre-School program tailored for the needs of affluent kids should not be the option for minority children in poverty.
They need schools that offer a pedagogy based on who they are, what they need and who they (and I stress they, the students) WISH TO BECOME, not who WE (the ones who do not live in an impoverished or minority community) think they should be. They need schools that are tailored to their needs that are authentic to their idiosyncrasy, and breathe life and hope into their community. Better put, wildly innovative and experimental models that are not based on results, but on the process unfolding in the present.
More than economics, it is about a shift in our views. The Public School System that eventually houses the minority and impoverished communities spends a huge amount of funding attempting to reconcile the “performance gap”, yet the funds are, in my opinion, wasted on acculturation efforts that might not be ill-intended but do not result in remarkable “quality” performance improvement. More often than not, they produce conflict of interest and identity within the student and their families.
Directing the funds in more “innovative” and effective ways would most likely equalize the performance gap and re-direct American and Mexican-American Culture in new and unprecedented directions.
A brief examination of Mexican-American history will reveal that a large portion of what is now American territory used to be Mexican territory, and that the means by which it became American territory would not be considered valid in today’s legal frameworks. More importantly, in many cases, these children’s parents have risked their lives to give their off-spring a better life, and while we may not be able to empathize with their choice of lifestyle (undocumented in many cases), it is they who are building our houses, picking our fruits and vegetables, sewing our clothing, cooking our food in restaurants and keeping our gardens beautiful. And it is their children, like any other, who deserve the ability to accept and believe in their worthiness.
Thus, not stripping these children of their culture, language and essence is how we make their Pre-School programs quality. What if we re-direct funding to create Public Pre-Schools (Spain has great models)? What if the Public Pre-School was entirely in Spanish? What if the parents were an integral part of the curriculum? What if the parents helped construct the school and explained to the children about construction? What if the parents helped grow the garden vegetables and plants alongside the children? What if the parents helped cook the food for the kids and taught them about it? What if the parents taught the children about sewing? What if the context of the program revolved around the rich history and customs that Mexico and the US share? What if some parents learned to read and write alongside their children? Powerful. What if this bond remianed all throughout their schooling experience? What if other kids from other cultures benefitted from this humble wisdom to improve the quality of their lives?
Perhaps the children would not feel the anxious need to “fit into” the American stereotypical culture to escape their identity because they perceive themselves as what "we" define as “poverty”. Instead, their identity would be adorned with pride and rich with adjectives of value and affirmation, and their future built on the veracity of loving and accepting who they are, and not who they are told they need to be by an illusory definition outside themselves of what "quality" is. They would begin to create positive models around what their culture values and evolve upward into what they wish to become. Where passion and purpose lie, there are no obstacles. Let us not forget that quality is a multidimensional experience based entirely on perspective and vantage point.