Board Member Rev. Britt’s Remarks on Poverty and Education

From the CitySquare’s 17th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast & Public Forum….



Deep in the country, long, long ago, an old man plowing his hard scrabble field found a mirror. He and his wife lived in an area so isolated, so remote they were strangers to modern conveniences. Things like mirrors and photographs were things with which they were only vaguely familiar.

The old man picked up mirror and was aghast! “Why it’s a picture of my old pappy!” He wiped away tears from his eyes after a quick glance and said, “Yep, that’s him! Well I’ll be…” He put it in his pocket, took it home and put it under his bed, to later show his wife. Then he went to clean up and get ready for his once a week trip into to town.

While the old man was gone, she was cleaning the bedroom and found the mirror cleaning under the bed. She looked at it and threw it down on the bed in disgust. “So! That’s the old hag he’s been fooling around with in town every week!”

Taking a serious look at ourselves when it comes to education and poverty is just as subjective an exercise as this old country couple’s look into a mirror – we see what we remember, or we have our worst fears confirmed.

Some of us can remember our own brush with poverty early in our lives and proudly proclaim our survival. Others of us know that the persistent struggles we have to educate children says something dark and unbecoming about us.

Chris Hedges, in a column written last year wrote, “A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.”

That thought, and what poverty looks like in DISD portend alarming consequences for public education.

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a household of three is ‘officially’ poor, if the make less than $17, 200 a year.  Eighty-six per cent of DISD students are considered poor with more than 88% of DISD students are on free or reduced lunch. The lack of economic development and strategic neighborhood redevelopment in some of our poorest neighborhoods, has led to the under-population of schools in those communities. So much so it has led to the heretofore unthinkable decision by DISD to close a number of them.

In an age of smart phones, iPads and laptops, draconian budget cuts have our schools inching toward technology, with the chilling prospect of leaving poor and minority children further victimized by an even greater achievement gap.

The drop-out rate among children from poor families is a staggering 64%. Even worse, among minority children, the ones who reside in neighborhoods characterized by poverty, recent studies show that across the state of Texas, minority students, particularly black students, are disproportionately subject to the type of disciplinary actions that put them on a track to encounters with the criminal justice system, constituting a school to prison pipeline that further frustrates our most well intentioned efforts.

Our public education system, as currently constituted, is consigning countless children to lost wages, prison time and diminished productivity – and in robbing them, we are robbing ourselves.

According to a Dallas Morning News editorial, not only are those who drop out of school subject to earn 35% – 43% lower wages, but they cost the country $260 billion in lost taxable income and productivity.

When you hear anyone say we cannot afford to educate all of our children, remember these figures and realize that we cannot afford NOT to educate them.

We all win, when we educate children; but system that fails our children, means that we all pay.

There has been a fair cottage industry in blaming educators, politicians, parents, business leaders and even children for the failings of public education. The fact is we are all to blame.

Especially when we know what works…

When it comes to education, we know that caring adults at home and in the extended environment work; we know that healthy children learn better than unhealthy children; we know that children with a nutritious diet are more alert than those who eat high in fatty carbohydrates; we know that enrichment that enhances what children learn during the school day works and that summers in which children participate in enrichment through creative, active learning works – not simply athletic activity; we know that safe neighborhoods work; we know that neighborhoods in which children see human examples that inspire them to aspire to greater achievement works; we know that challenging children with exposure to great literature, art and music works; we know that hands on learning works.

The real question is not just who do we blame, but when do we stop doing the things that we plainly see are not working and begin to do the things we know work.

When I was a pastor, I had as a member, a young lady who grew up in the church and became a teacher in south Dallas. She’s now an administrator in another district. I visited her in her classroom when she got her first assignment. It was after school and she was telling me how frustrated she was. She talked about how the children came to school, their lack of discipline, their lack of preparation and focus.

When she finished, I said to her, ‘Vickie, whatever the answer to all of those problems are, I know this – these parents aren’t sending you their worst children and keeping the good ones at home for themselves. These are the only children they’ve got. You have to find a way to teach them.’

We must educate them all. We cannot climb the ladder of success for ourselves and our families and then pull the ladder up after us because too hard to provide the same opportunity for another generation.

Today, we have with us a panel of concerned citizens who seek to influence the process and politics of public education. They are not educators – we will get some of that in our breakout sessions. But our guests represent the opportunities for the civic, philanthropic and political engagement necessary to undergird the work of our school system with type of support that recognizes that every sector of our city must have skin in the game in the fight against poverty and for an educational system that benefits us all.

And to follow me, the mayor of our city, who has connected the dots between the critical importance of great schools and the revitalization of poor neighborhoods. Mayor Mike Rawlings’ ‘growSouth’ strategy is a promising strategy that ties the wholeness of our poorest communities to education as well as economic development and housing.

I had the privilege of getting to know and watch him before he became mayor, as he led Dallas in the construction of the Bridge. But most importantly, I saw him as he helped lead the rest of the city see that homelessness was not just a problem for people living on the streets and under bridges; Mayor Rawlings, then our Homeless Czar, got the word out that homelessness is not a condition that Dallas should tolerate for any of its citizens.

At CitySquare, we are not only proud to call him ‘Mayor’ we are also proud to call him friend. Welcome Mayor Mike Rawlings.