Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If Myths About Poor Students Are False, Does Integration Matter?

As a follow up to my post last week about the myths about poor students, I wanted to explore the practical implications of Paul Gorski’s book and the myths he addresses.  Gorski is on target in laying bare our stereotypes about poor children and how stereotypes can negatively affect poor students’ educational outcomes.  In reading the excerpt from his book, however, one could get the impression that, but for stereotypes and inequality of opportunity, poor students would be on par with middle income students.  After all, he asserts that poor families value education as much if not more than others; poor families’ linguistics are just as complex and intellectually stimulating as middle income families’; and that poor parents are just as effective and attentive as other parents. 

As an advocate of integration, the immediate question for me was: why, then, would poor students perform better in middle income schools?  I doubt there are any fewer stereotypes in middle income schools.  And, I doubt it is just a matter of more resources.  If that that were the case, regression analysis would show integration does not matter and that, with equal resources, poor students achieve at the same level in schools with high percentages of low income students as they do in integrated schools.  But regression analysis shows that socio-economic integration does matter and money alone does not cancel out certain environmental effects.  (Money, of course, does matter.  But it requires more than equal money to counteract disadvantage.)

The answer to this seeming quandary lies in what Gorski does not say or, rather, the nature of the claim he is making.  Gorski’s arguments debunk moral and normative claims about poor families.  Most obviously, he responds to the moralistic notion or judgment that poor people are lazy and deserving of their station in life.  The moral aspect of the other myths is not as obvious, but there nonetheless.  For instance, he debunks the notion that poor people are inattentive and ineffective parents.  In other words, many think poor people are not “good” parents or do not care enough to engage with their children.  What Gorski really debunks is the notion that poor people do not have the same love for their children as anyone else.  Debunking moral based assessments of poor parents, however, does not debunk objective factors.  We all know love is not enough.  Even if poor families loved their children more than middle income families, that love will not pay high priced college tuition, buy books, provide expensive summer learning opportunities.  Nor does love cancel out the educational deficit that a parent might have him or herself.  Thus, debunking the moral stereotype about poor people should not be taken to mean poverty does not matter.

While being middle income does not equate with being a “good” or “loving” parent, it does correlate with a lot of other objective measures that do matter to their children’s education.  It also correlates with political power and the ability to hold schools accountability in numerous ways that matter.  So, middle income students show up to school with built in advantages and they attend schools that are more likely to deliver on their obligations to students.  For these reasons, school integration does matter even though stereotypes about poor children are false.


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