Alfie Kohn, an American author and lecturer who explores the topics of education and human behavior, uses the College Board’s own statistics to prove that there is a positive linear correlation to family income and SAT scores.
This is my second year teaching math at one of the two public high schools in the city of Henderson in Vance County North Carolina. The average per-capita income of Vance county ranks in the bottom 10 counties in North Carolina at a whopping $17,600. To put this in perspective a bit, my wife and I hail from the #1 and #2 ranked counties in Tennessee at $28,000 and $41,000 respectively. I can’t begin to say that I know what it is like to grow up in poverty. For the longest time last year I was just the “new white teacher”, and the students didn’t give me the time of day. Because see, I wasn’t used to hearing or living the stories of crime, abuse, and abandonment that build their nests in the poorest corners of our nation. I didn’t know what it was like to grow up in Henderson, and my students let me know it.
“You didn’t grow up on these streets Mr. Smith, so you will never know.”
“You just don’t get it Mr. Smith, that’s not the way it is out there.”
They were right. I didn’t understand, and I still do not fully. I still have to mask my shock when more than a few students answer my Day 1 question “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” with “I just hope to be alive.” It was hard for me to justify the “vitality” of finding the vertex of a parabola when I know a few of them don’t know where they are going to sleep at night.
A positive linear relationship in the top section, means that there is a direct correlation between the amount of money your family makes, and your score on the SAT. As income gets higher, so do the SAT scores. And since the SAT score is the primary indication of a “college – ready” student, the poor students get rejected and adds one more impossible barrier to their list of obstacles they have to cross to succeed. There is major injustice here. As teachers we face the dilemma of teaching our students what they need to know for the test (which they will soon forget), or teaching what they should know to be a successful contributor to society. The whole system seems to be based on getting students ready for a life of tests, rather than the tests of life.
Knowing the reality of the educational world my students live in gets me fired up to start another year of teaching. God knows they need someone on their side. The odds are against them, but I am still able to witness amazing things happen in Room 216 at Northern Vance High School. All these kids need to show you their true potential is a place where they feel safe; safe from the racial and economic injustices that occur on the daily. And a place where they feel love; love that they seldom find in the world they live in. And a place that gives them hope; a hope that brings light to penetrate the darkness.
Here’s to trying my best to give them those three things as often as I can.