Sonia Sotomayor was raised in a Bronx Public Housing Complex. She is Hispanic. She is likely the next Supreme Court Justice. I heard this story, and in my head I thought about how inevitably my dad would ask me if I had shared the news with my class. I woke up early and found a dozen articles about it to bring to school, made a quick powerpoint presentation about the Supreme Court nomination system, and made a reading guide for them to fill out to help them attempt to read the articles.
I wasn’t shocked by their reactions. I had learned early on in the year that they tend to be ignorant to their own socio-economic situations. They often insist that they are a part of the middle class, despite their actual status as members of the poorest congressional district in the United States. Most of them are on welfare, and in this bad economy things can only look bleaker now than it did for most of them when I first tried to initiate conversations about poverty and the achievement gap earlier in the year.
TFA often tells us that we should be illuminating the disparities and injustices that our students face by talking to them about it, but it’s challenging when they refuse to identify as members of a oppressed or neglected group.
I tried desperately to make them care about Sonia – to make them feel a connection with her.
“Miss – why you think we care about this?! We ain’t poor like that. I don’t live in no projects.” Says one student whose family is on welfare and who in fact is living in a shelter.
“I’m not Hispanic, I’m Dominican,” another asserts confidently.
“What – you think just ‘cause this lady is from we Bronx we should care? She’s not like us! And what’s the big deal about what she’s doing anyway.”
“Lots of more important people than that are from the Bronx,” they said, rattling off the long list of celebrities and musicians who are from the Bronx. Most of them aspire to be professional athletes and hip hop artists, so these role models are better aligned to their ambitions.
I tried repeatedly to show them why this should matter to them, and found myself feeling like I was the crazy one for thinking that they had anything in common with this woman. I was ultimately defeated, though I think I made a valiant effort towards reaching them. I guess it’s a good thing that they are so confident, and have so much swagger, that they aren’t grasping for role models. You can’t really blame a kid for not wanting to identify themselves as poor, disenfranchised, and unlikely to succeed.