I grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Toledo, Ohio. During my time in middle school, we did not have books or resources that made me believe that there were pathways out of the neighborhood. Most of my teachers did not believe that we would amount to anything more than a statistic or products of the environment.
As an adult, I often advocate strongly for funding as a path to equity. Fresh out of the military, I worked as a youth consultant through a non-profit for three inner city schools, where I met a young man who left a deep mark on me.
Corey (not his real name) attended a middle school I worked with, and I developed an affection for him. He lived in a group home because his father was in jail and his mother was nowhere to be found. Before the group home, Corey moved from foster home to foster home with zero stability. Still, Corey shared with me his hopes for the future, and they were big.
He wanted to be an engineer, and, despite the statistical likelihood of this, every adult in that organization told him he could do it, he could be anything he set his mind to. We created an environment where our love and support helped him to believe it, too. We worked hard so that he, and all of the children like him who we worked with, believed they could get an education and move ahead despite their circumstances.
Later, as an educator who had spent a great deal of time in underprivileged communities and schools, I began to believe that more funding for these schools was the answer. I studied the San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) Supreme Court case, in which the court upheld that states do not have to fund schools equally, and disagreed loudly. I knew that lack of money is a huge part of why the achievement gap is so large. But lately I am thinking more about the love gap and the nurture gap.
Corey’s school did not have fancy amenities, great books or the latest technology. But what kept him from sinking was what the adults decided to bring—love, support and a belief that Corey could succeed.
One teacher can make a difference. For me, that teacher was Mr. Dodge, a middle school teacher who took the time to care about me and to see beyond what society said I would be. He saw what I might become. Mr. Dodge set high expectations for us and believed that we could achieve them. His assertion that we could do anything and be anything filled a gap that no amount of funding could fill.
Corey went to college, in spite of his environment and a lack of funding in his school, and became an engineer. I became a 2017 State Teacher of the Year.
I recently got an opportunity to travel abroad to see how students are educated overseas, and I heard a lot of the participants say that if we would fund our students in America as well as they do overseas, that gaps would close. Maybe, but I’m not buying it completely. We need equitable funding, but we can’t use lack of funding to excuse poor outcomes for kids. To all of the educators in poor schools, I say, love, not money, will close the gap.