Politics, Moderate



Can we come out of this pandemic with more empathy for low-income parents?

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- For whoever needs to hear this: We're in the middle of a global pandemic -- it's OK to cut yourself some slack.

And if that means you let your children largely ignore their distance/electronic learning, well, then so be it.

That may be a shocking thing to hear from a professional educator. In the minds of some, every parent in America must move mountains to ensure their kids get online at the appointed times to do whatever work their passionate and dedicated teachers -- who probably have their own kids at home to tend to - have painstakingly put together for their students.

Lord knows that my husband, a high school teacher, is busting his tail to provide rigorous, high-quality lessons, assignments and resources for his students. But even with all the stops that he's pulled out, only about a quarter of his students are engaged.

Unless a family is fully resourced with an in-home caregiver who has no other responsibilities other than to help with household tasks, broadband internet access, an extra computer or tablet for their children, loads of toys, books, arts and crafts materials, and no worries about having enough money to eat or keep the lights on, parents shouldn't feel bad about not homeschooling their kids right now.

Sure, this is the right moment to reflect upon all that teachers do, how hard they work to make school fun, meaningful and safe, what a huge burden they take off families during the day so life stuff can be managed, and how little they're paid for their highly skilled work.


(If you're really into this, please check out this article, "26 Tweets from Quarantined Parents that Prove How Underpaid Teachers Are" on the educator site We Are Teachers https://www.weareteachers.com/tweets-quarantined-parents/ -- it's spot on!)

But it's an even better time to think about how -- back when life didn't revolve around avoiding a life-threatening virus -- lower-income families were panned for not cultivating their children for college the way the middle class did.

Remember how much looking down their noses academics did at under-resourced parents with their talk of the 30-million-word gap between children living in poverty and higher-income kids? How many times did we hear that educational disparities from kindergarten through high school rested on low-income parents because they tend not to speak to their children as much in the first years of life?

It's hard to master the serve-and-return style of dialogue with babies and young kids when you're hungry and don't have adequate shelter. Or when your low-wage job offers only erratic hours and you don't have access to reliable public transportation or even the most basic things in life, like health care.


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