We don’t often post a piece *because* we dislike it, but here goes.
Misleading title. The piece is really about how one TFA teacher “discovered” poverty and continues to romanticize it. Favorite line: “My modest goal was to simultaneously teach 11th grade English, pocket some life experience, and write a novel.”
I didn’t know the weareteachers tumblr could be sassy.
Poverty can only be romanticized by those who don’t have to spend any more time with it than is necessitated by the kind of thing they go into specifically for the “life experience.” A few AmeriCorps alum and I refer to this — which is part of many AmeriCorps programs as well and, as much as I love my AmeriCorps, is also not something I think works on the level expected — as Poverty Tourism.
People go into an experience in which they are required to “experience” what it’s like to be in poverty. In some cases, this will, or should at least, be eye-opening, and is meant to impart a new level of urgency, appreciation, or concern for those living at or below the poverty line.
But here’s the thing — that is not how poverty works. Poverty is not a brief period of time during which one can say to one’s self, this will end soon. Even when people are thrown into poverty by unexpected situations, there is not a guaranteed end point, no counting down. Often times Poverty Tourists can go to relatives for help if they end up in dire situations, because often times these individuals are not from a low-income background and may know people with money to spare. But that is not generally the case with people who have been living in poverty for most or all of their lives.
You cannot fully comprehend the feeling of “poverty” when you know it will be over in ten months, a year, two. This should be part of the things you are taught when put into these programs — that this is an immersion experience that does not actually show you another person’s reality but makes you think on their context — but, in mine and others’ experiences, it is not.
And beyond those people — those who do attempt to understand and feel the weight of the experience, even if they cannot fully — there is the larger problem of those who still wholeheartedly view the experience not as sombering, but as an adventure, without that tempering reminder that it is something that chips away at so many people. There are still many people out there who do NOT have the perspective to remove themselves as the hero of the story, who either do not see people living with poverty as full people rather than sad background characters waiting for aid or who romanticize the people themselves, which is also problematic because it also romanticizes the problem. And the whole thing just twists my stomach.
So I can’t tell if I’m glad that this individual gained that perspective, or still concerned about some of the viewpoints — and I KNOW that it makes me concerned, as I usually am, and frustrated, about the whole issue.