Building Bridges from High Poverty Communities, to Schools, to Productive Citizenship: A Holistic Approach to Addressing Poverty through Exceptional Educational Leadership
reviewed by Hilary Lustick - April 19, 2015
Title: Building Bridges from High Poverty Communities, to Schools, to Productive Citizenship: A Holistic Approach to Addressing Poverty through Exceptional Educational Leadership
Author(s): Lisa Bass & Susan C. Faircloth
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433114097, Pages: 186, Year: 2013
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The basic questions about poverty in education have already been asked: How can schools in high-needs communities adequately meet educational demands? How can they promote growth in economically depressed areas? Jean Anyon (2014) called on communities and governmentsforces outside the jurisdiction of the schoolto commit adequate aid to education. Delpit (2006) jumpstarted an ongoing conversation about the importance of holding high expectations for all studentsa conversation that has since become more specific about what strategies will support all students in multiethnic settings (Fergus, Martin & Noguera, 2009; Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, 2008).
While this discourse focuses mainly on race and ethnicity, poverty in and of itself is a condition that impacts learning. Schooling must therefore be consciously and strategically organized to reach poor students as effectively and consistently as those with adequate means. Such is the presumption behind Basss and Faircloths edited volume of studies and conceptual pieces, which seeks to foster a new discourse specifically on the needs of schools in high-poverty areas. The strategies their contributing authors describe largely echo the education sub-fields of multiculturalism and linguistic diversity: there is an emphasis on relevance, drawing on community strength, and maintaining high expectations. On the other hand, the volume showcases not just effective teaching strategies but effective school leadership and productive citizenship. The novel takeaway is that effective education in the face of poverty must be a whole school affair, from parent engagement to leadership decision-making, and it must produce students and citizens who are not only capable of, but committed to social change. The text is also quietly subversive in its choice of case studies, focusing on Latino and American Indian communities that are often underrepresented in qualitative literature in poverty and education research.
The editors justify their focus on poverty by carefully walking the line between calling it a culture and recognizing its social implications. The construct of poverty, they write, is complicated by the fact that ones relative position in society is also defined in terms of social status, social standing, and lifestyle. In this way it is measured by the fluidity of ones actions, his or her degrees of freedom, and how much power he or she exudes or has access to (p. 14). Indeed, schools cant cure poverty altogether, but they can provide opportunities to access forms of capital. This notion, like the notion of school needing to be made relevant for students, is not new; however, defining relationships and school culture as a matter of transmitting capital has not been discussed before in so many words. The discourse usually focuses on relevance as a means to its own end: culturally relevant education as a means of helping students access curriculum, for example. This text reminds us that relationships and clear expectations are actually means of fighting poverty and building social capital beyond the walls of the school.
Particularly noteworthy chapters cover professional development that empowers parents to help teachers understand useful strategies for teaching their children; the ethics of care in school contexts where the majority of children are wanting for basic comforts, as well as the imperatives to provide quality services toward college and career counseling; an analysis of how poverty breeds violence in both rural and urban contexts, and how principals can use an environmental scan method to maintain a safe school environment; the importance of cultivating trust between teachers and leaders as well as between leaders and the community, particularly through risk taking; and establishing the school as a community resource or hub (p. 109).
Most powerfully, Chapter Five takes the term urban beyond its common euphemistic invocation by defining it, along with rural, by widespread poverty in both contexts. Equally original is the insistence that leaders not only adequately provide support to staff, but glean support from them as well. These are, perhaps, the best arguments in the entire book for examining poverty as its own phenomenon in education. In some places, chapters repeat earlier points; Chapters Two and Three are both concerned with ethical imperatives, and make the dangerous choice of equating care and risk-taking with successimplying, by converse, that the principals of low-performing, high-poverty schools must simply not care enough or in the right way. Given the plethora of new and intricate suggestions planted throughout the volume, this advice felt vague and platitudinous.
Overall this text is a solid choice for any entry-level school leadership course that prepares graduates for effective work with high-poverty populations.
Anyon, J. (2014). Radical possibilities. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor Francis
Delpit, L. (2006). Other peoples children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Publishing Group.
Fergus, E., Noguera, P., & Martin, M. (2010). Construction of race and ethnicity for
and by latinos. In Handbook on Latinos in Education. Murillo, E. (Eds). New York: Routledge Press.
Metropolitan Center for Urban Education (2008). Culturally responsive classroom management strategies. Retrieved from http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/005/121/Culturally%20Responsive%20Classroom%20Mgmt%20Strat2.pdf