Friday, September 2, 2011

Thinking about Socioeconomic Status

Here is another reflection from my grad school program in which we were asked to consider our socioeconomic status (SES) compared to that of our students, and how an outsider visitor would be able to tell the SES just by observing the school. Based on the reaction from one of my classmates, I thought it would be useful to share it in this setting. She was shocked at how few resources we have at our school when compared to even her low-income school in the United States. Read on...

I think that my socioeconomic status is in some cases the same as and in some cases lower than that of my students. As I have mentioned this week in my reflections, I identify solidly as middle class, but the material comforts that a middle class American is used to usually fall into the upper class category in Honduras. Home air conditioners, full-sized ovens, washing machines, and dishwashers are all a thing of the past for my life here in Honduras. Those families who have these items are considered in the upper tier here. I also don´t have a housekeeper like many of the families of my students.

I do not think that this difference affects the way I deliver my lessons, or my teaching style, but it does affect the way I approach certain topics. For example, in my biology classes we discuss the effects of consumerism on the environment by watching the Story of Stuff. The short film discusses the exploitation of “Third World” resources and labor for “First World” consumer goods. There are problems with those terms as well, but I ask students which lifestyle they most identify with, and how they can observe the effects in their own country. We also talk about the role of money and SES in topics like environmental destruction and health, and I try to emphasize that even though my students may not be in precarious situations, there are plenty of people around them who are.

If a visitor who had a familiarity with schools in Honduras were to visit our school, he would probably recognize that it was a school for higher income students. This would be based on the fact that our classrooms have air conditioning, an energy expense that is not feasible for most of the general population of Honduras. We also have an up-to-date computer lab, and by viewing the trophies on the wall there, the visitor would assume that we also had the money to travel to various technology competitions in order to win them. Although cell phones are technically not allowed at school, if a visitor were to see one of the students pull this contraband out, they would have a better guess at the SES of the student. Blackberries and iPhones are the norm, and one of my students last year had a cell phone that was worth more than I make in a month. I buy the cheapest cell phone possible, and based on this measure, a visitor might assume that my SES was lower than that of my students.

Compared to many schools in the United States, we do not have as many resources. There is no career center, no academic advising, no reading support, no special education, no sports fields, and the library does not serve the same function as it would in the US. I am in charge of the science lab, but our lab is very small and does not have basic safety considerations for handling chemicals, such as a fume hood, eye wash, etc. Our website, however, claims that it is “fully equipped,” a fact that the other science teachers and I often lament. There is only one television/DVD player, two “data show” projectors, and two sets of speakers for the whole school that we must all share. The school recently purchased one smart board (also to be shared) but it has not trained any of the staff on how to use it, nor opened it up for use, and it has been over a year! However, many schools in Honduras do not have even these materials, so compared to those around us, we are very fortunate.

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