11.16.2008

Sibling Assignment # 81: War on Poverty

Silver Valley Girl gave us a timely topic this week: "As our thoughts are centered on the men who fought for and defended our country this week, write a post with the focus on War." Hers will be here soon and Raymond Pert's here.

Early this week I wrote about Veterans in a post centered on people in my community that were honored during a Veteran's Day assembly. Today I am tackling a different war, the War on Poverty.

"The War on Poverty is the name for legislation first introduced by United States President Lyndon B. Johnson during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. This legislation was proposed by Johnson in response to the difficult economic conditions associated with a national poverty rate of around nineteen percent. The War on Poverty speech led the United States Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act, a law that established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty." Wikipedia

Some would say the War on Poverty has fallen off the national agenda. Others try to convince us that it will be a priority with the new administration. As concerns surface in the headlines about bailing out the auto industry, fixing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and tightening spending as Christmas draws closer my mind keeps returning to the American people that were already living in poverty when the financial crisis began to widen. How much worse does life become for a person that was barely making ends meet a year ago? What happens to a family of four when jobs become scarce and housing is out of reach?

Working in the public school system my focus of concern always returns to the children. I see the signs of poverty every day. I see it in the pale faces of children as they wait for breakfast. I see it when a middle school student enters my classroom on the first snow day with worn out athletic shoes, shorts, and a short sleeved t-shirt covered with holes. I see it when a child misses the first half of the day because there is no alarm clock or telephone in the house to assist a child that has slept in. I constantly return to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs when working with the students in my school. When a child is struggling I ask the following questions: Are the child's basic needs being met? Do they have protection and security? Do they have a sense of belonging? Is this child equipped to move to the cognitive stage of learning?

The War on Poverty is a tough battle that is fought in a different battlefield with different weapons than the wars our soldiers are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Parents have pride so it is important to be sensitive while trying to assist. Children have stories and need someone that has time to listen. Structures and routines can create a sense of order , but sporadic attendance makes it hard to provide it.

Teaching is just one profession that is involved in supporting our children, but we must not forget them. I walked to class with a former student last week and listened to her stories of survival. She had been kicked out of her house. She moved in with her ailing grandmother. She has witnessed violence and instability. As I listened she turned to me and said, " I know now why I miss this middle school hall so much. It always felt like home to me. I miss that this year." If an old brick building with a broken heater in the hall and plastic on the windows can provide shelter, a place of stability and order to a child's life... that is a start.

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