(18) Social Capital

There were a few public schools in New Orleans that functioned well. They were usually located in middle to upper middle class neighborhoods, and some were magnet schools that had more rigorous academic requirements for entrance. Student populations of these "good" schools were more diverse and academic achievement was significantly higher. What students had in common wasn't necessarily parents who had more money or higher education levels. It was that parents who sent their children to these public schools were more in the know. They banded together and played a greater role in how the schools and district were run. Their ability to know and work the education system for their children's benefit made all the difference, regardless of their ethnicity. This social currency is called "social capital".

My students and their families also had wealth of social capital, but in a different form. In order to maneuver the complicated life-and-death landscape of the Calliope, residents needed to be able to develop complex networks and establish credibility in the community (a.k.a. "street cred."). My students and their families were able to breeze through social interactions and synthesize complex information in order to be safe and lead fulfilling lives. As an outsider, I was at a disadvantage. Social capital like currency isn't always transferable outside of your community. To use money as an example, you can't use American dollars in Australia.

Even though my students' families desperately wanted their children to succeed in school and had earnest intentions, many of them expressed to me that they either did not understand the system or were intimidated by teachers and administrators (some of the teachers had been their own teachers growing up). There was also an underlying parent sentiment that teachers were the professionals and it was disrespectful to argue with them. As a result of the important parent advocacy piece missing, more often than not, school staff and district officials would take advantage of parents and make decisions that were self-serving rather than student-centered.

*Would anyone be willing to share situations where you have had to advocate for your child's educational needs and the outcome?


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Parents are criticized for not caring about their child's education, but sometimes they are not sure how to help and others are just tired from working two or three jobs!

  2. I just read your blog posts straight through since I just became aware of your blog today. So much of what you write I can relate to. I started teaching in Portland (OR) Public Schools in 1994 and although I was 42 years old, I was a brand new teacher and placed in a low-achieving school in a high poverty neighborhood. My teacher preparation was woefully inadequate for the immediate needs of the students. They ate me alive. The administrators were overwhelmed and not often seen in the classrooms. The parents were disconnected from the school community for a variety of the usual reasons. I've known more than my share of Ms Pretisses, and why is it they are always involved with the union?

    I survived, but like you, left that school for another. Since I was old enough and had been with the district for 15 years, I took early retirement last June. I was pretty burned out.

    Before my last year of teaching started, I thought of writing a blog or a keeping a journal about each and every day - sort of a "year in the life of a teacher", but time prevented me from keeping up with it. I admire your writing this blog and I'll look forward to more posts.

  3. You, as a teacher who cared about her students, saw the need for parental involvement. In West Virginia, I believe the real reason for consolidation has been the attempt on the part of many school boards or higher-level administrators to deliberately thwart parental involvement, so they can get their way about things. That's especially true in school boards that are more interested in social agendas than education. Unfortunately, the effect was surprisingly similar to what you experienced in the inner-city, though for different reasons. I'm just an old red-necked country boy, though: I'm sure many folks would disagree with me.

  4. @ Lauren Thanks for adding the work factor. It's an important point to remember.

    @ Julie Welcome and thank you so much for sharing your story. I look forward to hearing more about your teaching experiences.

    @ Gorges You may be many things, but I've read your blog and unfortunately, I have to say, you are not an old red-necked country boy. Well, if you are, then so was Samuel Clemens.

  5. Now you be careful, I've got a reputation to live down to! Thanks for the kind comparison, though, he was always one of my favorites.