Poverty Dulls the Light of Learning
In the French religious newsletter "ichthus.fr", the Pope is
stated to have cited one of the principal causes of misery, of sorrow, of
destitution in our world as being people's undependable, unequal access to
Interestingly, for community college supporters, the
French l'éducation comprises a person's complete upbringing, his home life
and his time in school. It amounts to its literal meaning, a drawing out of the
darkness of ignorance into the brilliant light of awareness.
But, as Pope Francis stated, poverty dulls that light.
In 2013, Skyline
College's Regina Stroud
cited poverty as one of the key barriers to academic achievement. "The
number of community college students from low-income families has steadily
increased over the past two decades," Stroud states, but all too often,
"...the public narrative has shifted from open access to rationing of
And it is also all too often the case that needy students
are being taught by financially distressed teachers, too. We teach part-time,
and our lives comprise money-scrambling...full time.
As NBC News reported in April, 2015, one in four families of
community college part-time teachers is enrolled in some sort of public
assistance program in Colorado.
one in nine part-timers lives below the poverty line. In Washington State,
two-thirds of public community and technical college teachers are paid less
than $17,000 a year.
The Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University has pointed out the
interesting details from a longitudinal study: 44 percent of the nation's
families earning less than $25,000/ year send at least one family member to a
community college. And in many states of the United States of America, these
poor students are being taught by professors with years of experience, with
publications, with many college degrees, but without enough income to survive
satisfactorily, not to mention comfortably.
This is the shame of which the Pope speaks, and it is the
shame cited by a writer on the blog theprofessorisin.com: “It's hard...not to
beat myself up with shame for working so hard through undergraduate school and
then two graduate degrees, for spending tens of thousands on tuition and for spending
so much time over the years helping students learn. Such altruistic intentions
appear to be a character flaw in the eyes of my employer, however, and I don’t
This is an ongoing problem; it seems not to go away. In
fact, money seems always to be available to hire new administrators, even to
build more structures, but, as NYC Future has written, there is often not
enough money for the labs that (especially poor) students need, and there is
certainly never enough to hire more full-time faculty to teach.... especially
when we thousands of part-timers have cried out, open-mouthed, for even the
dregs of work.
How can access be improved? How can we help the poor student
to enter, to feel comfortable at, to learn in a community college? And
how can we help ourselves to feel the integral part that we know our so-called
part-time life is? How can we escape the destiny of doom that is part-timery,
the knowledge that once we have been so categorized, we will never escape? How
can the dullness of things inaccessible be wiped away to let in the light?
Pope Francis has called for more than simple analysis and discussion of these problems. He has called for enlightened action. Let us storm our brains for our own action, in our students' interest and in our own.