Poverty and Education

Found an interesting entry at brad’s blog on blog-city. He was talking about the Michigan U affirmative action policy. He had a good argument for something else, instead. A poverty-based initiative. I thought his arguments were cogent and interesting, as were his comments afterwards.

Poverty is not inherently a negative factor in education. It is the culture of poverty that makes for poor education.

My family was far below the poverty line when I was growing up, but my parents always read to us, took us to the library as often as we finished our books, and emphasized school to us. I have a PhD. My brother has a LlD. My baby sister is working on her MA.

My father's family were farmers and often below the poverty line for income, although they always had food to eat. He has a LlD. One sister has a PhD. One sister is a CPA. They all have good educations. Because those were emphasized.

A friend pointed me to a great site about the difference between middle class teachers and the lower class students they are teaching. It talks about how the middle class values independence and initiative while the lower class values belonging to the group and not making waves. It is essentially a description of why it is hard for the poor to get a good education. It is because their culture is against it.

This entry is no longer available, because the author took it down. I have a copy of the information sitting on my computer, though. But I don’t want to publish it, because it isn’t mine.

Short Rant

I said short, so here goes.

Teens: They have a Zeus complex, in that they think they’re gods. They’re immortal. They can be whatever and nothing can “really” touch them. It’s scary what they do, thinking they’ll be safe or not thinking at all.

They also tend to be “on stage” all the time. They think everyone is looking at them particularly. Each little flaw will show up on a billboard somewhere. Really, except their close friends and worst enemies, no one is even noticing, unless they’re a school leader in some way (athlete, honor roll, newspaper editor).

Students: They think that school is a product they buy. You know, I paid my money. Where’s my A? What do you mean I have to come to class at least half the time, stay awake, and actually do some work?

I love teaching. I like students who are trying to learn. They don’t even have to be particularly good students. I’ll take a C student who is struggling to stay afloat over a smart aleck A student any day in any class. Just ’cause you have an A doesn’t mean I am impressed. It means you did A work. You can still be a jerk and I can know it. Believe me, I am not deaf and dumb just because I am old. (Well, older than you are.)

Teaching Gaffes

When you are a new teacher, no one tells you anything, because they expect you to know everything. Which would be fine if you did. But I don’t.

I was going to sleep tonight, cuddled up with my sick husband, when I realized that I hadn’t posted my grades.

I thought yesterday was the last time to post them, which would mean I was in big trouble. But it turned out it was today. However, when I went to post I realized two things. One is that someone dropped one of my students who shouldn’t have been dropped. Two of my students who should have been dropped weren’t. And I forgot to check on a test of another student. I can’t do that at midnight, so I have to go tomorrow and hope they’re there.

AAAGGHH. And the bloggers I’ve been reading think finals are hard.

Actually, if you could spell and write grammatically correct sentences, mine was rather easy.

Community Colleges

Plastic: Community Colleges talks about community colleges adding honors programs.

Then it goes on to discuss the fact that more private and public universities are accepting community college transfer students. It mentions that community colleges cost a LOT less than others.

Then it talks about how community colleges aren’t fair to the urban poor who come there if they have honors programs. It says the urban poor aren’t transferring.

Then it ends with a quote, “Even the students who say they want to transfer aren’t really doing so.”

A couple of comments on that:

The urban poor can get in the honors programs. It’s not like they’re restrictive. “Sorry, if you’re from around here and make less than $25K you can’t enter.”

Second, the academics/scholastics who are pooh-poohing the job the community colleges are doing are NOT urban poor. They don’t understand the culture of the urban poor.

A friend pointed me to a great site about the difference between middle class teachers and the lower class students they are teaching. (Unfortunately it is no longer available. Follow the low SES tags to posts on the topic.) It talks about how the middle class values independence and initiative while the lower class values belonging to the group and not making waves. If you don't understand that the lower class students getting an education at the community college are already breaking away from their culture just to do that, you need to read this site.

And, for my personal opinion, a lot of students who say they want to do a lot of things aren't doing so. Ask anyone on campus. They'll say they want to make As. What if they're not. Why not? Because they aren’t trying to make As. They’re not doing what it takes to make As. They just “want” to make As.

Well, I want to win a million dollars. But I’m not buying lottery tickets. So, while I say I want to win a million dollars, I’m not really doing anything about it. Is that the fault of the lottery? No.

If a student says they want to transfer and don’t, is that the fault of the community college? No.

Finals: Be There

Finals for college fall semesters were this week, also next week for some folks.

I gave my final at the usual class time, since mine is a weekend class. I brought doughnuts. They’re not very nutritious, but the sugar rush can help you when you’re needing to concentrate. (Think I read about that on Reuter’s this week. Schools doing poorly on state testing were giving better breakfasts and lunches on testing days because it helped and they needed all the help they could get.)

Our room got moved, since they had ACT testing that weekend too. But I was there early and there were clear signs about where to come.

Two of my students got there about 15 minutes late. One came strolling in half an hour late. (I’d called them all at home on my cell phone but couldn’t reach them. I wanted to make sure they hadn’t overslept.)

It’s rude to come to class late. It’s rude to come to a test late.

It’s also not too smart. Tests are timed and sometimes you need all the time you can get. How much brain power does it take to figure that out?

It also irritates the teacher. That’s something like irritating your boss on the job. It’s just poor planning.

Real-World Applications of the Long Report, pt. 4

Realistic frustrations

These real problems brought into the classroom have led the students to experience some of the frustrations our “clients” have felt: the inadequacy of available data, lack of expertise in composing questionnaires, receiving minimal response to those questionnaires, finding they have proposed unworkable solutions, and having to be more creative in their search for data and solutions.

Writing as learning evidence

These frustrations have provided evidence for Applebee’s theory of writing as learning because the structure has required explicitness and the medium is permanent and the students have used their reports to discuss alternative methodology and solutions. They have often found creative innovations which have made for interesting and useful final recommendations. In writing these reports the students have discovered that the formats they have learned have real business uses.

Ideas for involving the business community

There are many ways of involving the community in the business writing class. Presenting the principles of various types of business writing in such a way that the substance is a real business writing issue and as important as the form has been very successful. The use of this idea in the long report sequence has already been discussed. It is equally effective for other types of business writing.

Memos outlining policies of gender neutral language, after a presentation of the idea by a business leader, involve the students in business writing issues as well as business writing formats.
Complaint letters involving real situations which have frustrated the students are useful. When the final version and a copy are turned in, the students also present a stamped addressed envelope. Then the letters are mailed by the professor. Often students will bring in the responses they receive later in the semester. This gives everyone, including the students who have not received a response, the knowledge that letters do make a difference.

Good news letters can be written as compliments for good service received. Like the complaint letters, these letters can be mailed by the professor and are often replied to by the management.

Job search information to be used in the writing of resumes and application letters can be garnered from interviews with a person in the same field and/or at the same company after information from printed materials has been exhausted. This interview allows the student to get a better idea of the area she is entering and it also publicizes the concern of the university in the business community.

Interview thank you letters can be written.

Through these formats, which we teach in business writing classes, we can be involved meeting community needs and involve the community in meeting the needs of our students.

Problems and responses in the long report sequence

PROBLEM: Sophomores with insufficient work experience to complete the long report sequence.
RESPONSE: Create class projects which do not presume work experience.

PROBLEM: Unrealistic expectations in first versions of proposals.
RESPONSE: Peer editing allowed the students to revision for themselves using other students’ goals as models.

PROBLEM: Group unable to reach competitor for price lists.
RESPONSE: Contacted competitors in demographically similar towns.

PROBLEM: Ethical question of asking for price lists for a reason other than possible use of the service.
RESPONSE: Arranged for contact person to be someone who did plan on using a wedding videography service.

PROBLEM: Unrealistic expectations in first versions of proposals.
RESPONSE: Peer editing allowed the students to revision for themselves using other students’ goals as models.

PROBLEM: Groups in two different classes working on same aspect of the project. Potential for duplication.
RESPONSE: On their own groups initiated different approaches.

PROBLEM: Project determined unprofitable while in the progress report stage.
RESPONSE: Group came up with radically different possibility for the service, though not for the client.

PROBLEM: Low return rate for questionnaires.
RESPONSE: Noted. Conjectured possible reason: volatility.

Work Cited

Applebee, Arthur N. “Writing and Reasoning.” Review of Educational Research 54 (4):577-96.

Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

Real-world Applications of the Long Report, pt. 3

This paper was presented to CCCC in 1990.

Revision moves students towards realistic goals

Once the students identified areas of interest, they formed groups in which to work and began writing their formal proposals. Again the expectations expressed in the proposals covered the continuum from pessimistic to unrealistically idealistic. And, again, the peer editing of the first version encouraged a revisioning towards realistic goals.

Possible concerns

Since two classes were working on the same project, and yet each class was a self-contained unit, some of the groups were dealing with the same subject matter. At the beginning, I was apprehensive about this in that I was afraid that they would be duplicating each other’s work and possibly would alienate the business community in which they were doing their research. This did not turn out to be a problem.

Proposed different approaches

Each one of the groups proposed and followed different approaches to their portion of the project. One example of this is what happened in the advertising groups. One group dealt solely with ad agencies in town. The other group assumed a much smaller, and more realistic, budget based on library research they completed during the proposal and predicated their study on in-house advertising. They contacted the local newspapers and radio stations about copy and costs. In their progress report this group mentioned that they looked to the most successful competitor’s advertising for guidance.

Final reports

The final reports were very instructive and provided our clients with sufficient information to enable them to decide that such a project would not be profitable for them. One group, which had chosen to research location ideas, came to this conclusion about the time of the second progress report and wrote that the possibilities they were dealing with would not be feasible and that, therefore, they were looking into other alternatives.

I thought that at this point they were buying themselves trouble and that they would be better off simply detailing their findings and the recommendation that the business not be established in their final report. However, I did not discourage them.

Their final report would not have been of much use to the clients so we did not furnish them with a copy of it. But the contents excited the entire class. This group had discovered that if students were the proprietors of this business that they could operate the business on campus through the campus mail and minimize overhead costs. Three members of the class decided that this idea would work and got together to go about setting up such a service.

Community involvement

The news of these studies have spread through the community. I have had other people call to suggest their project for the long report sequence or to request information on such a topic as advertising budgets for small in-home businesses.

The students in another class were asked to become more involved in the university community by investigating which kinds of resumes and application letters were most appropriate for certain majors. The only stipulations were that no business majors could be selected and no information could be solicited from Fortune 500 companies since these are the standards upon which many business writing courses are set up.

One group decided to work on the resumes and application letters for those seeking employment in video and film production. They had two reasons for choosing this field. The first was that they knew where to get a list of addresses of companies who hired in this area. The second was that the only member of the group who did not already have a job upon graduation wanted to work in this area. Expediency and necessity made this a rational choice.

This group had the most frustrating experience with the project in that only 25% of their questionnaires were answered and an additional 20% were returned by the post office. The students were aware that the low return rate was problematic, but they could do nothing to change it. They simply mentioned the low response level and conjectured that the volatility of the video and film industry might account for it.

Based on the responses they did receive, the students made the recommendation that “resumes should stress previous work experience, including dates of jobs held, titles, and duties, over educational factors like major, name of college, and date of college graduation.” They also recommended that resumes should be sent with the application letters and that these letters should emphasize an understanding of the basic job requirements. The reasons why employers preferred these seemed clear to the group. Video and film production are not common majors and therefore work experience is a much better indicator of ability in these fields.

To be continued…

Real-World Applications of the Long Report, pt. 2

This paper was presented to CCCC in 1990.

Step One: Formal proposal

Once the small group studies were chosen, the students submitted a formal proposal requesting approval to conduct the study and preliminary projections of methodology, cost, and scheduling. The first version of the formal proposals ranged from the overly cautious writers who felt little could be discovered in the allotted ten weeks to the incredibly idealistic who felt that everyone they knew would work with them full-time on this project. The two ends of the spectrum were mediated towards the middle through the process of reading and commenting on each other’s proposals.

Step Two: Two shorter progress reports

Instead of one long progress report per small group, I requested two shorter reports. It was in these progress memos that problems the writers had been working against were expressed and revised into something with which they could cope.

The progress reports also provided a forum through which the group could receive feedback since first versions were read by two people outside the group. There was no sustained written dialogue, but students did point each other in new directions by short comments and questions which generally were requests for clarification of points the writers had not thought through.

Students’ problems and their solutions

The students also used the progress reports to discuss unworkable plans and problems they were encountering. One example of this came from the group working on pricing. They were unable to reach by phone the only videographer operating in the area. They documented two weeks’ worth of phone calls to his business number at various times of the day. I could not suggest a way to get in touch with this elusive competitor.

But by the time I received the second version of their progress report, they had made alternative arrangements. This version of the progress report included the phone numbers of videographers in two other cities demographically similar and noted that the group members were beginning to contact these people for price lists.

Another problem these students were faced with was a question of ethics. The students wondered how they could get the information they wanted from other videographers without lying about why they wanted them. One group took care of the problem by having a friend of one member who was being married in the city where one set of videographers were located call and ask for the price lists. The number of innovative responses to problems the students met with were encouraging.

Copies of the final reports from the students were presented to the people considering starting the wedding video service. They felt that the information was more than adequate to allow them to make a responsible decision in the matter.

Feasibility studies

Two other classes worked on the feasibility of setting up a typing/editing service. These classes also brainstormed to determine possible project divisions. They identified several areas of concern which our “clients” had not thought to consider. This was an encouraging beginning.

To be continued…

Real-World Applications of the Long Report, pt. 1

This paper was presented to CCCC in 1990.

Real-World Applications for the Long Report

Abilene Christian University’s Business Writing students learn the currently accepted formats for written business documents. They are presented with the principles and student in-progress papers for concrete examples of the formats.

Then the students are expected to discover real problems in their work/academic environment which need a solution and, using the cognitive problem-solving strategies of Flower and Hayes, 1) propose an investigation into the problem along with possible solutions, 2) begin conducting this investigation and report their progress, and 3) submit a final report which makes a recommendation based on the data gathered.


The expectation was that classes would be composed of juniors and seniors. These students would work on reports such as whether a delivery service would be feasible for the pizza shop at which they worked which currently only served in-house or what measures might be used to decrease the amount of time employees spent off the premises of a hardware store. And these problems would be garnered from actual work situations. This approach works well with students who have worked or are working while going to school. However, because a number of sophomores enroll each semester, there were difficulties since sophomores typically have less work experience from which to extract problems.


In an effort to alleviate these difficulties, I searched for multi-faceted problems which would be complex enough to provide eight to ten collaborative projects. I found several community members who were considering business ventures but did not have the time to carry out a feasibility study. These community-member needs have led to long-term projects for my classes.


Two examples are the long report sequences covering setting up a wedding video service and an editing/typing service. The third example of a long report sequence presents the university as a community and investigates whether the resumes and application letters taught in business writing are valid for students looking for jobs in video and film production, relatively new specialties in mass communications.

The students who worked on the feasibility study for the wedding video service were presented with the idea for the overall project. They were then asked to propose divisions of the project which coincided with their areas of interest for small group collaborative studies. This discussion allowed them to brainstorm as a class and to find others with similar interests with whom to work throughout the long report sequence. The areas eventually chosen were as diverse as the purchasing of video peripherals and the importance of credibility for videographers.

Flower, Linda and John R. Hayes. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Learning.”  College Composition and Communication 32.4 (December 1981):365-87.

To be continued….