This Property is Condemned:
Three Ways To Limit Students' Potential
by Jill Jenkins
In the one-act play, "This Property Is Condemned" by Tennessee Williams the fate of a thirteen year old girl orphaned, uneducated and abandoned after the death of her sister, a prostitute is explored. Like this girl, many students are equally ill-fated. Three problems hamper their potential: first, a culture that does not value education; second, incarceration of one or more parent destroys the supporting family for many students; and three, low wages and unemployment require many students into the workforce prematurely.
To many people providing their children with a quality education and ample skills to be successful is paramount; however, to others regular school attendance and homework is an inconvenience. These parent often undermine teachers' efforts and disrespect educators convincing their children that school is not important and sabotaging any efforts their children have in pursuing an education. Some members of lower socio-economic groups share an attitude that if they have successfully provided food and shelter for their children without a formal education, their child certainly don't need an education. Others in more affluent homes allow their children so much personal freedom that the children never develop the self-discipline to complete their education. Regardless, the children are handicapped. Some children never leave their parents' home or become self-sufficient. Worse yet, homeless shelters are filled with children who were unprepared to fill positions that paid more than minimum wage. The rising costs of housing and food further hamper these unprepared individuals. Furthermore, the jobs available for those with limited skills are disappearing The world is becoming more technical; as result, those lacking an education are being left behind.
According to the article, "Law and Disorder" in the December, 2016 edition of Smithsonian Magazine 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States which translates into 690 people of every 100,000 people, more than in China and Russia. According to the article, "Innocence" by Matt Ford in the December, 2016 edition of Smithsonian Magazine these incarcerations have a devastating effect on families. As many prisons are far from urban areas, it is difficult for the children of those incarcerated to interact with their parents. Incarcerations of even one parent puts an undue financial and emotional burden on the remaining parent. When both parents are incarcerated the negative impact on children is even more devastating. Some are sent to live in foster homes with strangers. Others are sent to live with relatives: aunts, uncles or grandparents. Many are impacted by mental illness and/or addiction. One of my former students was left to raise four siblings on his own at seventeen. Children raising children. The financial and emotional burden made it almost impossible for him to concentrate on his own education. Many lower socio-economic neighborhoods are significantly impacted by this epidemic. Substance abuse and incomplete educations lessen these children from reaching their full potential. According to Matt Ford's article, "Innocence", one in nine African-American children have at least one parent in prison. As a result, in communities with higher percentages of minorities, there is a high likelihood that many students have parents imprisoned; however, the social sigma surrounding incarceration keep many students quiet or others ignorant of the parents' plight making identifying those who need help difficult.
The Problem of Poverty
I once believed that education is the great equalizer. It is true only if equal education is available to everyone. It isn't. The truth is upper middle class and wealthy parents provide their children with enriching activities, trips, tutors, private music lessons, summer camps and private schools. Many lower socio-economic parents require their children to work and use those wages for financial support of the family. There are child labor laws, but they are rarely enforced. Many children work eight to ten hours a day on top of their seven hours of school daily. Parents of these children cannot afford tutors, summer camps and music lessons let alone a rich environment filled with books and computers; they can barely provide food, housing and clothing. In neighborhoods where employment is available, children work on farms, in family businesses or movie theaters; in neighborhoods where employment is not available they sell drugs or steal. As a result, it is highly unlikely these children will escape poverty or the criminal justice system.
Are there solutions? Teachers are the first line of intervention for these students. They should get to know their students and connect them to counseling staff, social workers and outside agency when needed. Parenting classes, group counseling, social workers who can connect parents and students to agencies, after school and before school tutoring would help. Enriching activities in the school and community would help even more. One such community activity is a drum program in New York captured in the linked video by Jeanette D Moses. Schools and communities need to invest in the future of these children. Education can be the great equalizer. Don't condemn children: embrace and enhance them.