- A woman who teaches at the same school as my friend and I do proffered the suggestion that perhaps the errors in grammar and spelling [on a recent AP English test] could be owed to a language barrier issue. That suggestion was met with this response: "I don't think it's a language barrier problem. I think it's a stupid problem."
I know hardly anything about teaching in the inner-city. I know what one year's worth of experience has allowed me to observe, what others who have been there longer than me have shared, and I know a lot about what NOT to do in a classroom. I do not profess expertise in this arena. However, one thing that the last year has done for me is solidify the belief that kids who read on a 6th grade level in 12th grade are not stupid. They have crappy educations and/or limited English proficiency. When I say "don't talk poorly about my students" it's not because they are all particularly endearing. Several of them are, in fact, the embodied antonym of "endearing". The reason we shouldn't talk poorly about students in the inner-city is because, by and large, the fact that they can't read or write as they ought often speaks little about their academic potential. It speaks more to a public education system that is so big, and so poorly organized that it cannot actually hold its teachers and its parents accountable for solid foundations in the academic subjects.
When we call them "stupid" we mean that they cannot learn like others can. We take years of poor teaching, unstable communities and home lives, racism, and a myriad of other factors and turn to those kids and say "stupid" and make them culpable for all the forces at work in their lives. It is not a "stupid problem". It is a quagmire of personal and education issues which combine to render many of them without the necessary literacy skills to continue learning past high school. It is a problem so big that most days I am not sure that anything we do even makes the smallest dent in it. But above all, it is not a "stupid problem." And the ignorance that perpetuates that kind of thinking will be the same ignorance that chooses the relatively easy work of mocking those kids rather than undertaking the labor it is to teach them.