A concerned teacher speaks out:
The strong correlation between poverty and academic achievement has been noted for decades. Nutrition, stress, lack of health-care and housing stability all play a role in brain development and student learning. This is not disputed, yet as educators, we largely ignore poverty and instead focus on how to better teach our students. No amount of revised lesson plans or new curriculum will remove the impact of poverty on student learning.
Taking a stand against low wage poverty is a stand for education. I want to be clear: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the academic abilities of poor children. In fact, when you remove the stresses created by poverty, academic achievement goes up. There is something wrong with a society and economic system that allows so many of our children to live in poverty.
And one of the biggest problems we have to overcome is ingrained prejudice bolstered by a healthy dose of narcissistic navel-gazing. I got into a very unsettling argument with a handful of normally progressive friends and family recently over the living wage issue. The concerns raised by these folks centered around fairness: "Is it fair to the people who have labored to obtain a college degree or professional certification, only to have someone who didn't even graduate high school come along and get paid $15 per hour?" The argument pretty much fizzled out when I explained how they (as taxpayers) were actually paying part of the wages the employers refused to, via food stamps and other public assistance a $7.25 per hour worker was qualified for. But that didn't address the deeper social schism that caused those feelings of unfairness, a schism that is a direct result of decades of Meritocratic thinking. We're programmed to believe we compete with each other, but, in fact, we are competing with the 1%. And losing.