Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mapping Race-Poverty-Inequality Discussion

This week in the Making Learning Connected MOOC (#CLMOOC) the topic has been 'systems thinking'. I encourage you to browse the discussion for yourself.

Yesterday Kevin Hodgson posted this graphic on his blog to show how a discussion of racism might be visualized. This prompted me to write this post, because I've followed this conversation about race, poverty and inequality for more than 20 years through my leadership of a tutor/mentor program serving inner city, primarily Black, k-12 youth.

Recently I created the map below (see actual map) to visualize my understanding of this issue:

What this shows is that people in affluent communities face many of the same issues and challenges in life as do people in poverty areas. As Robert Putnam pointed out in his book "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis" (see my article), kids and families in affluent areas have a lot more resources to help them overcome their problems. In addition, kids and families in poverty areas, have many negative influences and challenges that are not present in high poverty areas.

Here's what I am struggling with. I've used this graphic for many years to illustrate a goal of helping kids in poverty areas move through school and into jobs, careers and adult lives free of poverty. To me this is the vision Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was envisioning. This is something that mentor-rich, long-term, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs can influence.

However, when I follow the #blacklivesmatter, #ferguson, #baltimoreriots discussion on social media, and review reports such as the 2014 “Building a Beloved Community: Strengthening the Field of Black Male Achievement”, (see my article), I don't see a clear picture of what the future would look like if we did achieve all of the goals people are talking about.

That's why I'm excited about the systems thinking going on in the CLMOOC and the article Kevin posted. I think one of the huge challenges we need to overcome is getting people who don't live in poverty, but who face huge challenges in their own personal and work lives, to spend quality, on-going time, thinking and reflecting on the problem and potential solutions, as well as what "victory" would look like.

In Kevin's blog I posted a comment encouraging him and other educators, faith leaders, business leaders, etc. to create their own concept maps, showing their understanding of this problem, and their path to a solution. I hope in the future we'll see thousands of these, and that each year they will become more and more sophisticated, and closer and closer to something that unites people from every sector and every part of the country (world) in this discussion.

I do not have an answer to this problem. What I do have is a library of other people's ideas, my ideas, and research, that anyone looking for an answer can use to expand their own thinking. As groups of people are looking for solutions I think that MOOCs and on-line libraries can encourage deeper learning, more reflection, and the opportunity to exchange and compare ideas. We can learn from each other. We can build greater support for solutions that seem to be working, in all the places where they are needed.

If educators begin to engage youth in this type of problem solving when they are in elementary school or middle school, and keep them engaged as they move through formal schooling, they will have more time, and more ways, to dig deeper into the vast libraries of information that is available to them. I think the way I do because I've spent 40 years working with inner city kids and leading a tutor/mentor program. Unless others spend years, even decades, involved in this learning, it's not likely the solutions will be as broad and complex, or as well supported, as they will need to be.

If we can do this focused on race, poverty and inequality, perhaps we can do the same addressing other complex problems, like the environment, religious differences, political differences, etc.

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