The Poverty of Low Expectations

There is a subtle form of poverty that comes from low expectations. The expectations can be be from within yourself or from someone else. I will never forget my first encounter with this poverty.  I was in my first year of teaching in an inner city charter school. In a quiet moment during the spring, I overheard two 6th grade girls talking about their future jobs. One was going to be working at Burger King and the other thought that Dairy Queen would be a better place to work. They didn’t know anyone who had a job outside of fast food. Our school motto was “The Road to College” but in their minds, they didn’t have any other options. This moment was both a surreal and heartbreaking. These girls had adopted the expectations of their families. This also gets to the heart of why poverty is cyclical and the huge disadvantage that poor kids inherit.

All of this is pointing to one thing: It is SO IMPORTANT that teachers resist these low expectations. We need to be aware of expectations and throw our entire weight into pushing against them. The kids who expect to succeed will. We automatically come alongside them and push them. It is the kids who are struggling that need mindset lessons, attitude adjustments, and engaging opportunities the most.

If Puzzle Shift Create means anything at all, it is an invitation to the kids who expect school to suck. They can have the freedom to show off their strengths, do things that they find interesting, and shine in their own way. You get more out when you put more in. For too many of these kids, it will be the first time they’ll be in control of their own steps forward.

In so many STEM trainings, it has been said that students need an ‘authentic audience’ to share their school work. This takes it one step further. Puzzle Shift Create is a course that faces the world, not the traditional classroom and all the baggage that comes with it. We are doing things because they are effective in the world. When those things stop working, it’ll get fixed or scrapped. The consequences for our efforts are in the real world as much as possible; for example, entrepreneurs will be selling for real money, designers will have their work online.

It was strange, I have had so many kids assume that we cannot do something for no real reason. I came to understand that kids are conditioned to assume they can’t do things that they don’t see everyone else already doing. Some of my most vivid memories of starting this program are of students realizing that we can do stuff here. Our brainstorming would get quiet after I asked “Why can’t we do that? We can do all kinds of stuff here!”

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