Katherine Schexnayder

Katherine Schexnayder

Today, two weeks after the United States re-elected President Barack Obama, I sit in front of my computer contemplating the implications of yet another Democratic win at the expense of an ill-informed, rabid Republican party. As a Democrat I feel the obvious growing satisfaction from knowing that even though my vote was cast in a Red State, the voice of the working class was heard loud and clear on Election Day.

As a parent and a teacher, I feel disheartened, because there is a battle left to fight for Democratic ideals. The battle for our children. If we want to instill Democratic ideals in our children then we need to become more active in how we communicate to our children, especially children who are at risk of feeling inadequate, broken or inferior because of the constant bombardment of racist, sexist, hate-filled propaganda streaming in from the right wing conservatives. Daily, our children hearing the kinds of misinformation that Republican children are armed with on the playgrounds and commons areas of our schools. These pieces of false narratives can be quite convincing to an impressionable mind – it seems true and seems to make sense, especially when it comes from the mouth of their history or science teacher.

Dem-voicesI am a single mother and a teacher. I am hyperaware of the narrative for the children of single mothers in this country. For the first three years of my daughter’s life I have evolved from dreading to relishing the idea that my daughter will one day think I am supremely unfair because she is the only kid she knows that doesn’t eat at McDonald’s. I have not figured out however, how to protect her from the right wing narratives that gives her a false sense that her life is somehow lacking because she doesn’t have a man in the house.

As her one and only parent, I have searched to find, in every situation, some half-smile, some disappointment that she feels at holidays or at home in the evenings.  But the truth is my daughter is seriously happy. I doubt if my child is really lacking anything in life. She lives in a safe home and has everything a child could ask for educationally and emotionally.  She has only one parent, but that one parent has a college education, and a steady, secure job. I had all of those important pieces of the puzzle when I got pregnant, even if I didn’t have a husband. This, of course, is where the crucial difference comes in between correlation and causation. Yes, the children of single mothers are more likely to live in poverty and become single parents themselves, but that is correlation.

A closer look shows that children of single parents like me are doing just fine and so are their kids. However, poor single moms are not.   The argument, then, for two-parent households is an economic issue more than a family issue.

A second parent is less needed than a second income. A second parent is not the cure. It may help treat the symptoms of poverty and lack of education, but really the cure is to address poverty and lack of education. And as the mothers and fathers of these children it is our duty to make sure our children know that they are whole, loved and normal with just a mother or just a father, or with two mothers or two fathers or with a mother and a father. If we don’t teach our own children this lesson explicitly we leave them open to attack in the media, at school and from a growing number of conservatives who are scared of change.

I see how my poor students have begun to believe they don’t deserve better than what they have. Last Friday, I was reading a nonfiction selection with my sophomores about the widening gap between rich and poor. I knew for certain that I was facing many students who are living at the bottom of the economic ladder. I had met their parents, both white and black, who spoke of long working hours and economic hardships. They had spoken with pained voices about their child’s lack of supervision due to long work hours and had humbly requested help purchasing needed materials.

I had also met other parents, who blamed everything wrong with the school on the kids who looked darker than their own. I understand that I may never get high school students to swoon over The Great Gatsby, but with this article I expected a lively debate. I was ready, I had facts and statistics. I had text dependent discussion questions and constructed response questions.

The author of the article was a young black man living in an affluent white neighborhood in New York. He was tired of being asked who he worked for. He was tired of the rich hoarding money and using the excuse that the poor were lazy and entitled as a reason to look the other way at the widening gap between rich and poor. I asked my students, “Do you agree with the idea that poor people are poor because they are lazy?” The answer was yes.

But the answer didn’t come from where I expected. It came from the kids whose hardworking, humble parents were struggling to make ends meet. My first response was, “Excuse me?” To which the student responded, “Well, yeah. We are poor because we are lazy. Why else would we be poor?”

I didn’t know what else to say, but I told this child that I knew his momma. I knew she worked hard. I knew she worked hard to provide for him. She didn’t seem lazy to me. He said, “Then why are we poor?”

How can I tell him everything in the 5 minutes before the bell? How can I summarize the social injustice of his life in a way that he can understand in such a brief time? How can I do it without voicing my political beliefs in the classroom? The answer is I can’t do it justice, especially because he wasn’t the only poverty stricken student to agree.

I can however ask all of you to have the conversations. Our students believe the conservative narrative. They do not understand that poor does not equal lazy and that sometimes hard work doesn’t pay well. What is worse is they believe they deserve the social injustice that has been heaped upon them by an unfair system.

There is something even greater at stake. We stand to lose another generation to the Republican Party, because those other kids in class, the ones whose parents blame the “entitlement culture in America,” were listening, too. In that moment, the growing disparity between rich and poor ceased to be a talking point of their parents’ generation. Now, they had heard it from the horse’s mouth, the mouths of the very people their parents have told them are responsible for what they see as the largest entitlement government on earth.

Democrats have become less outspoken in South Louisiana than they were 4 years ago. The loss of friends, the hate filled words and the stares we endured when the whole election turned sour in 2008 has made many of us choose to only talk politics in hushed whispers. We have fallen so silent that the right wing talking points have gotten to our children, the very people we should be arming with the words and information to defend themselves against this propaganda.

The right wing has shouted so loud that if you are poor you are lazy that our children believe it about themselves and about their hardworking parents. It is our job as Democrats and parents not to let the narrative of the conservatives be the loudest voice our children hear.

We must take an active role in educating them on how to respond to the misinformation in a clear and intelligent way, and more importantly how to spot misinformation. If we do not take this task seriously, I assure you there are others willing to do it for us.

Katherine Schexnayder is a Louisiana native and a high school English teacher in Lafayette Parish. She has 10 years of teaching experience in Louisiana schools and plans to finish her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the summer of 2015. She is the proud mother of a beautiful three year old daughter. If you would like to reply to this blog or contact Katherine, please send your remarks to venese.morgan@gmail.com.

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Originally published: Nov 30, 2012