“When Centennial’s students found out Seymour couldn’t hold a pyjama day because many students didn’t have pyjamas, they fundraised to buy every Seymour student a pair last Christmas.”
When parents receive letters from their kids’ school asking for donations for playground upgrades or library books or technological devices, a certain segment of the population sighs, grows a few more grey hairs and dies a little bit inside.
Parents who are struggling financially cannot afford the luxury of even a tax-deductible donation to the school their children attend.
Sometimes, parents are confused. Don’t we pay taxes? Aren’t taxes structured in such a way that those who are more well-off shoulder a bit more of a burden for social services than the poor and struggling? That’s called a progressive tax system, but it is hated in our neoliberal era of tax cuts, austerity, privatization and social service cuts. The BC Liberal Party hates the poor and has been bashing them for most of this century.
But these are often just abstract policy debates. The reality is that there are real families, tens of thousands of them in BC, and real children who suffer and are often ashamed, too ashamed to trot out their poverty at school.
Who teaches them to be ashamed?
Poor-bashers. Those who cherish their tax cuts and look the other way when they are confronted with poverty on the sidewalk or [rarely] on corporate TV news.
But there is a human side, and it’s heartbreaking.
This is why Katie Hyslop’s amazing piece in The Tyee yesterday about poor kids skipping field trips was so important and poignant. The rich often feel uncomfortable when confronted with poverty.
[Anna Chudnovsky, a Grade 4 and 5 teacher at Lord Strathcona Elementary in east Vancouver] said the experience of missing a field trip isn’t enough to disrupt a child’s education since the excursions are typically supplemental learning. But coming to terms with and admitting their experience of poverty can create anxiety and self-esteem issues.
“The general consequence is a lack of confidence, an unwillingness to take risks, and [a lack of] of belief that they will be successful,” said Chudnovsky.
“That’s just compounded when schools ask them for money and remind them of things they can’t have or can’t afford, that will be difficult, create tension, a fight or stress within the family.”
This stigma, which is reinforced by so many elements of society, contributes to keeping those who are poor in their youth from being threats to social order when they grow up. Society teaches poor kids that they’re second class, that they don’t have a voice, that they should just shut up and never, ever complain.
It’s time we stopped coddling the rich. It’s time we stopped being complicit in stigmatizing the poor, the precarious and the economically and socially marginalized.
It’s time we let the poor-bashers know that they are the shame of our society. NOT the poor.