How to Avoid Cultural Dissonance in Schools

By Andrea Celico

Many people believe children begin to recognize differences in skin color by age 3 or 4. Many claim impoverished people don’t recognize their hardship, especially if they are victims of generational poverty. Whether or not these things are true, I vaguely recall my early experiences with race and poverty.

Looking back on my childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, I realize I unconsciously gravitated to those less fortunate. From an early age, I was troubled by our occasional trips to downtown, where I caught glimpses of homeless people in the streets. I could not make sense of what I was experiencing. I could not verbalize my thoughts, nor did I receive answers that satisfied my curiosity. I simply could not comprehend why people lived on the streets when I had a warm house and bed to sleep in each night.

I remember feeling then how I feel now when I see the same things -- helpless, sad, and sympathetic.

Poverty doesn’t discriminate. It transcends race, gender, and age. In my visits to downtown, I witnessed the faces that poverty plagued -- black, white, adults, and children. Growing up, I didn’t have much, but I had enough. I had two parents present, food on the table, and a functional car that got us where we needed to go.

Today, I see these things and use my skills to work with our urban youth, particularly in districts like the one where I’ve been an educator for 17 years in an inner-ring Cleveland suburb. Working with minority students and children of poverty requires teachers to see beyond color and beyond your own socioeconomic status. Here is how I came to this place, as well as some lessons I have learned along the way.

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