Caring for Kids Across Class Boundaries

January 21, 2007

In my last post, I wrote about the limitations of the ideal of the “heroic” teacher whose deep care will enable poor and working class students to engage in school in profoundly different ways.

That same afternoon, I was reading Stephanie Jones’ terrific book Girls, Social Class, and Literacy. She writes of the complicated relationships between children, their mothers, and teachers when mothers do not have access to the cultural, economic, or social capital to live up to the social construction of “ideal mother”. When poor and working class mothers have long been subject to the judgments of teachers, medical professionals, social workers, neighbors, or Child Protective Services, they have good reason to be wary of middle-class teachers who try to insinuate themselves into into the lives of their children.

Jones write that as a teacher, she had to come to understand that “students who walk into classrooms do not possess autonomy to build relationships and attachments with any concrete other. … The relationships educators build with children may continue to position them in tension-filled spaces between home and school if we don’t realize the necessity of building genuine relationships with caregivers as well”.

We seem to have come somewhat full circle, then. Loving children into learning can never be enough for poor and working-class kids. Yet, when teachers have too much to do in too little time, it will take an element of quiet heroism to also invest in the risky business of initiating relationships with wary parents across class boundaries.

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