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"Simplistic and Condescending,"

by Jenice L. View Pity the low-income person who, by virtue of lousy wages alone, is considered an incompetent parent. Letís patronize her who is unworthy of talking with or reading to her child or helping with homework (following a 16-hour shift or her second job) because she cannot be relied on to do it correctly. And, should the low-income parent feel too fatigued or too defeated by racism at the end of a hard dayís work, letís nevertheless encourage his kids to address him ďas an equal and without deferenceĒ in order to promote the same sense of entitlement that middle-class kids feel and use to their academic advantage.September/October 2004 issue of Poverty & Race

Pity the low-income person who, by virtue of lousy wages alone, is considered an incompetent parent. Letís patronize her who is unworthy of talking with or reading to her child or helping with homework (following a 16-hour shift or her second job) because she cannot be relied on to do it correctly. And, should the low-income parent feel too fatigued or too defeated by racism at the end of a hard dayís work, letís nevertheless encourage his kids to address him ďas an equal and without deferenceĒ in order to promote the same sense of entitlement that middle-class kids feel and use to their academic advantage.

Simplistic and condescending? No less than Rothsteinís article. So, to give Rothstein the benefit of the doubt, letís first assume that the supporting evidence for some of the more outrageous claims about urban, low-income African American families are contained within the bookís endnotes, and are more current than the 20-year-old data he cites on (rural? White?) Kansas families. While he seems to have no direct experience with low-income African American families, we can hope that the citations include information about the cultural supports and transformations of the last 40 years in the wake of legal desegregation, including those within the Black church.

Secondly, his international comparison is not credible because the article fails to address native language literacy of dark-skinned immigrants to Europe and Japan compared with the native language literacy of white Europeans. In addition, it is not clear if the data he cites on parental occupation and student literacy hold constant for language proficiency.

Thirdly, the impact on urban communities of the crack cocaine epidemic cannot be overlooked, leaving behind children with impaired health and grandparents to compensate for the failings of addicted parents.

Finally, if the wealth gap between middle-class whites and middle-class Blacks is indeed shrinking, and if many of the current Black achievers are first-generation middle-class, from where did they all come? How do we explain the circumstances of their birth and their low-income parents and the differences in outcomes? In other words, how is it that being poor one generation ago was less of a barrier to achievement than now? Perhaps it is due to the worsening income and wealth gaps between rich and poor of all races and ethnicities, a fact that is neither irrelevant nor in the control of parents or teachers. The final paragraph of the article makes the most sense:

The association of social and economic disadvantage with an achievement gap has long been well known to educators. Most, however, have avoided the obvious implication: To improve lower-class childrenís learning; amelioration of the social and economic conditions of their lives is also needed. Calling attention to this link is not to make excuses for poor school performance. It is, rather, to be honest about the social support schools require if they are to fulfill the publicís expectation that the achievement gap disappear. Only if school improvement proceeds simultaneously with social and economic reform can this expectation be fulfilled.

Jenice L. View is a middle school teacher at a public charter school in Washington, DC and co-editor of Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching. jenice@aol.com
 
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