The pedagogy of poverty

Yesterday I followed a link on Google Plus thus:

Allan Alach's profile photoAllan Alach originally shared this post:
This is excellent. No higher praise is possible

The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching

I followed the link and found myself reading a long, excellent analysis in “Education News”  by Martin Haberman  of the reasons for the continuing poverty and educational under-performance in the urban areas of poverty in the United States.
Haberman defines the cyclical nature of under-performance in terms of the culture of urban schools. In a telling paragraph he refers to John Taylor Gatto:
“When he accepted the 1990 New York City Teacher of the Year Award, John Taylor Gatto stated that no school reform will work that does not provide children time to grow up or that simply forces them to deal with abstractions. Without blaming the victims, he described his students as lacking curiosity (having “evanescent attention”), being indifferent to the adult world, and having a poor sense of the future. He further characterized them as ahistorical, cruel and lacking in compassion, uneasy with intimacy and candor, materialistic, dependent, and passive — although they frequently mask the last two traits with a surface bravado.”
I wonder how much of the “urban character” of today’s youth  you recognise in these words uttered as long ago as 1990.
Haberman talks of the ability of urban students to “control” their schools with the threat of non-compliance. He refers to the fact that teachers start out with great ideals and soon become sucked into a system that relies on routines, rigidity and punishments.
In order to escape from this cycle Haberman talks about what constitutes good teaching and effective learning.
He thus puts forward a counter to the current situation in most urban schools:
“Unlike the directive teacher acts that constitute the pedagogy of poverty, however, these tend to be indirect activities that frequently involve the creation of a learning environment. These teaching behaviors tend to be evident more in what the students are doing than in the observable actions of the teacher. Indeed, teachers may appear to be doing little and at times may, to the unsophisticated visitor, seem to be merely observers. Good teaching transcends the particular grade or subject and even the need for lessons with specific purposes.”
As a teacher myself I found this paragraph very powerful. I thought about the way that the teacher is always seen as the central focus of any classroom whereas it should be the students. The idea that the old model of “chalk and talk” to compliant students who would listen and then write something that they knew was totally disconnected to their present lives and would have little or no relevance to their future, is replaced by the creation of a “learning environment” where: “difficult events and issues are transformed into the very stuff of the curriculum. Schooling is living, not preparation for living. And living is a constant messing with problems that seem to resist solution. Whenever students are involved with explanations of human differences, good teaching is going on. “
In this situation the student is no longer a passive, compliant person sitting and listening to the wise words of the “sage on the stage” but is involved in bringing his own world into the classroom and trying to figure out what can be done to get solutions. The most telling phrase is “Schooling is living, not preparation for living“.
I have only given a quick resume of some of the points of this long and important essay. I would recommend anyone to read it and to reflect on the many points that Haberman makes about what can be done to turn urban schools into places of real learning and achievement. The missed potential of these children is a loss for their families and their country and indeed the world.
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