The English Teacher

The culture of poverty and ignorance
September 20, 2008, 7:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“We are all born ignorant, but we must work hard to remain stupid.”–Benjamin Franklin

At first glance, this statement seems to be harsh and cruel and is easily misunderstood.  However, what Franklin meant was that we are constantly learning, even if we are just passive.  But, we must take the extra effort in order to run away from all opportunities to learn.

I thought I would use this quote to do several things: assess my students’ critical thinking skills and their writing abilities.  None of them did particularly well.  They just scratched out some half-assed paragraphs that didn’t really tell me anything.  Others complained they didn’t understand the quote even after I explained everything for them.  One class, however, really exemplified this statement.  Though 2/3 of the class was trying, or at least relatively quiet, the other 1/3 were completely obnoxious.  They were louder than the rest of the class combined.  This is also the first time I’ve also seen high school students go around throwing balls of paper at each other and hitting each other when they wanted something.  I was incredibly frustrated because I felt as if I was teaching a kindergarten class. 

When I thought about this class, and the other lower-income school where I taught, I wondered about the differenct.  The other school had students who also grew up without money.  There were gang problems there, as well.  Many of their parents had very little education.  And yet, those kids still did not go around throwing paper and hitting each other.  This denotes some lack of emotional and mental development.  What can I do with these high school students who have no more sense than the average 5-year old?  Is it really a cultural thing?  Is it because they’ve grown up in an area with high poverty rates and roving gangs? 

At any rate, I’m tired of trying to yell over them.  I’m going to use a normal speaking voice and if they can’t hear it, it’s unfortunate, but I don’t want to ruin my throat for a group of kids who couldn’t care less.  I’d rather make more of an effort for the students in that class who are really trying.