Poor Kids, Poor Families and Shame

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“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 the Field Trip’s Too Pricey, Students ‘Self-Exclude’

BC’s disgusting and preventable child poverty crisis. Let’s stop coddling the rich!

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.”

When the Field Trip’s Too Pricey, Students ‘Self-Exclude’

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.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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2 thoughts on “Poor Kids, Poor Families and Shame”

  1. My kids were fortunate enough to attend schools on Vancouver’s west side. There the parents participated in all sorts of fundraisers to generate money for “extras”. There were annual, silent auctions. I used to donate a free incorporation for the highest bidder.

    The affluent, ‘social’ parents ensured that our kids had the best computer labs that money could buy. Better field trips and recreational equipment, that sort of thing. I did ask about the situation at schools in other parts of the city and was told those kids pretty much had to do without or cope with a very limited supply of marginal equipment.

    Most parents thought it was just fine, if not admirable, that their kids should get an unearned, unjustifiable ‘leg up’ on kids from less affluent neighbourhoods. That was a quarter century ago. Some things don’t change.

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