Teaching About Poverty

My classes are in the process of working very hard on our economy unit as they try to figure out what the best use of $700 billion would be. It’s been an exciting project, but has also gotten me thinking about how some of the material we study in class might seem less relevant to students.

Enter Blog Action Day 2008.

The theme of this year’s Blog Action Day – a day in which thousands of different blogs write on a culturally relevant and critical topic from their own paradigm – is poverty. This is an issue that has crossed my mind and heart frequently since college. One of the main catalysts of my own personal journey has been the ONE Campaign, a global campaign committed to fighting poverty, hunger, and disease around the world, though I have also been deeply affected by WorldVision and the work they have done around the world.

But since the goal of this project is to examine the issue through my unique lens, the question I pose to myself, and to other educators is simple: how can we educate our students about the reality, the causes, and the conditions of poverty, both locally and globally?

This is a question that I will need to ponder and try to work into my reading and writing assignments. One potential project is the op-ed piece students will write later this year (again borrowed from the ingenious Penny Kittle). Perhaps having students write their op-ed piece on poverty, either local or global, would be a nice assignment.

Our school has been setting up some very nice opportunities for students to learn about this particular topic. To begin with, our school is undergoing a movement, called “Be the Change” (based on a Gandhi quote). The focus of this movement, and the club/team that spawned it, is to create a caring school community. I certainly foresee this club dealing with some of the key issues in local poverty.

Another opportunity our school has opened up is the O Ambassadors club (yes, the O stands for Oprah Winfrey). The focus of this club is to raise awareness and money for poverty-stricken areas around the world. Our club, which met for the first time this past Monday, will focus on western China and the poverty issues in that area.

For the students in my school, I feel like this will be a very difficult topic to teach. Many of our students are middle- to upper-class and live in a very rural area; they have little concept of the sort of poverty that exists even an hour from here, much less what global poverty looks like. Many of the students also seem to lack something that is absolutely essential in understanding and acting on poverty: empathy. I feel like any attempt to teach my students about poverty has to begin and end with empathy. The question then is simply how to encourage students to engage a topic like this with empathy, and this is a question that I certainly haven’t figured out.

 Any Suggestions?

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