Last month John Merrow, education correspondent for PBS NewsHour posted a recap of NBC's Education Nation: Year Three. "... The elephant in the room at Education Nation (and in the public education sphere) is poverty... Everyone acknowledged that we are living in a time of unprecedented childhood poverty," wrote Merrow on his blog, Taking Note, "but no one -- not one person -- was angry or embarrassed about it. In fact, everyone seemed to accept poverty as an unchangeable reality (even though it's changing -- by getting worse)."
What's more, everyone, including me, has an opinion about education. Our biases or attitudes are informed by our own experiences as students, and for some of us, as parents. But when it comes to poverty, as Merrow pointed out, it's one issue that most of us don't like to talk about, or even think about. Taking a cue from the veteran reporter, I invited Alex Kotlowitz, the award-winning author of There Are No Children Here, to join Jane Williams on Bloomberg EDU to talk about his work in the field.
Kotlowitz, a Chicago-based writer, journalist and a producer of the documentary The Interrupters writes and reports about poverty and crime -- particularly as it relates to children -- in Chicago. His unpretentious, unassuming, non-egotistical manner, quality narrative skill-set and subject matter [that shall not be named] piqued my interest as a graduate student in 2010. Unlike some of his cohorts, he says he is an eternal optimist when it comes to overcoming poverty.
"You have to be hopeful, you just have to," said Kotlowitz on this week's radio conversation with Jane Williams.
"I have been encouraged over the past ten years about how much energy and effort and critical thinking has gone into education. For me, that just seems vital. It's exhilarating in some regards."
But we are far from perfect and tend not to talk about ways to overcome poverty. In fact, many turn a blind eye toward the intractable issues of race, ethnicity and poverty.
But for Kotlowitz, it is a question of getting to those issues. "I feel we need to open up that conversation some, I think that's absolutely essential. From my perspective," he says, "we also need to really begin talking from a public policy standpoint about the profound poverty in our cities and have to look beyond the schools as an answer for ways to ameliorate that."
But how to expand the conversation, how to pragmatically tackle these critical issues of childhood poverty, it's up to the adults. Being an optimist helps.
Read Kotlowitz's recent op-ed in The New York Times in which he asks, "Are We Asking Too Much From Our Teachers?"
The Letters to the Editor are not to be missed. Some might ask, Why Should Teachers Do it All?
Listen to Kotlowitz moderate an Aspen Ideas Festival 2011 panel on children and poverty here
"The unspoken story of our time is the growing inequity in our country," said Kotlowitz, "where one out of every four children is growing up in poverty."
You can read "Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children," by Stanford's Sean F. Reardon.