Matt Hoffman—Blog Post:
Amidst the growing national discussion surrounding public education, one truth has become apparent —now, more than ever – and it is simply that education is intricately tied to poverty. As former teacher, I have seen how education inequality is both a product and a contributing factor to the limited options and continued marginalization of poor communities. While education has not been an explicit focus of our immersion trip to Pennsylvania/New York, I have been continually thinking of ways to connect larger economic and political systems of poverty with education. To me, education is both an individual and a collective answer to the poverty plaguing the United States.
The right to a quality education is a fundamental right given to all citizens (in my opinion, this should read “all people”) of the United States. Long attached to “the American Dream,” education is central to idea that people are able to overcome hardships. This narrative is deceiving for many reasons, the least of which is that students in low-income communities often do not have access to the same quality education as their higher-income peers. Students in such communities face a multitude of problems and struggles, compounded by a lack of access to quality education. When the location you were born or the income of your family or your status as an immigrant determines your educational opportunities, there is a huge human rights crisis on our hands.
From my time with the Poverty Initiative, I have had the opportunity to interact with two organizations that are tackling education in their own way: the Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Binghamton, NY and Teacher Action Group in Philadelphia. BOCES, a group charged with managing the school lunch and breakfast program from 15+ school districts in the Binghamton area collaborated with other organizations to meet student need. Working with area partners, BOCES was able to extend food programs to summer and long weekends. Along the lines of education, BOCES is working to educate parents, students, and family members on the importance of balanced eating and proper nutrition. As many teachers can attest, it is incredibly difficult to learn on an empty stomach and health foods are rarely inexpensive. The work of BOCES provides options and education to those constrained by poverty.
The other organization that we heard from that is working within the education sector was the Teacher Action Group in Philadelphia, PA. This group is made up of current teachers, parents, students, and community groups in Philadelphia and is organized around the idea of strengthening their influence regarding school decisions. In addition to curriculum and learning groups, TAG is advocating against the recent announcement of school closures within the city. Advocating on the best interest of students and the community is crucial, and it demonstrates the interconnectedness of poverty and education. Indeed, the large majority of students impacted by the policies of the public schools in Philadelphia are considered to be low-income and impoverished.