Statistics and Fighting Against the Odds

I suppose you could consider this an expansion of my previous post about where I come from, and the experiences that led me to HGSE.

My experiences have shaped who I am and drive a lot of the work I do. They are what propel me to continue moving toward the future.

It really hits home when I read or hear about the low college completion rates for minorities. According to a report by Excelencia in Education, only 20% of Latino adults in the US have attained an Associate’s degree or higher in 2011-2012. Furthermore, in most states, there is a huge gap between the number of Latinos who have a degree compared to the rest of the population. Below is a screenshot but I highly recommend you check out the report to interact with the map to learn about specific states.

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In my home state, California, only 16% of Latinos had an Associate’s degree or higher, compared to 38% of all adults.

This really gets to me because I could have very easily fallen into the percentage of those Latinos who didn’t attain a degree at all. It’s very easy for statistics to make certain behaviors or actions acceptable. Not everyone does this, and I don’t mean to generalize, but I know from experience that some people don’t have as high expectations from minorities. We lower the bar for our minority students because we don’t always believe they can be academically successful. There was a recent article about this in the Huffington Post about a study that suggested teachers expect less from Black and Latino students.

A quote from the article:

Teachers thought a college degree was 47 percent less likely for African-American students than for white peers, and 53 percent less likely for low-income students than for students from more affluent families. Teachers thought Hispanic students were 42 percent less likely than white students to graduate from college, the study found.

This may not be deliberate. On some level, perhaps the statistics have painted a certain picture, and it’s just become a norm.
That’s the challenge, I feel. As a minority, the world perceives you differently. The odds are against you. I can see why so many students may feel that college or academic success is not an attainable goal for them. If no one believes in you, why should you believe in yourself?

What can make a difference? Challenging the statistics. When I think back to my schooling experience, I realize that the best teachers I had were those who had high expectations for all students, regardless of race or background. The teachers who pushed their students even when they failed, and told students they could do better even if they were doing okay.

On the other hand, if you have a teacher who easily gives up on you or lowers their expectations when you are struggling, you start lowering expectations of yourself. You stop trying as much. You become a victim to stereotype threat, something we read about in Whistling Vivaldi this summer.
The other set of statistics that shocks me are those that surround victims of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t think I mentioned this in my previous post because I wasn’t sure if that was too much information to share. The more I think about it, though, is that if I’m not talking about these things, then I’m contributing to the problem because these are things that need to be discussed.
Trigger warning: the rest of this post contains information that may be sensitive to others.

I was 10 years old when my stepfather came into my room at night. I didn’t know what was happening, only that it felt wrong. I already dreaded his outbursts, and this added a whole other layer of fear to my interactions with him. I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. I didn’t even know what to say or how to say it. And somehow, even if I could say something, I felt somehow it must have been my fault or that talking about it would only make it worse.
So I didn’t say anything for years. I kept it all inside. I started having anxiety about sleeping. I became more withdrawn and locked myself in my room. I suffered this battle on my own, silently. It started affecting my soul. I felt so much anger, resentment, and hurt but I didn’t really know what to do with it.
So I wrote. Writing and art became an outlet for me. I filled dozens of composition books with the things I couldn’t say out loud.
Eventually, I joined blogging communities like LiveJournal. I started writing about my life and the experiences I had, and started connecting with others. I found that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced what I did, and that it wasn’t my fault. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Thinking back on these things, it’s really shocking how the only place I felt I could turn to was online. In some aspects, I suppose the anonymity helped. I felt I could talk about what happened without worrying about how I would be perceived. What’s really surprising, though, is how outside of my online communities, I hadn’t been exposed to these topics or what to do in the situation, despite the prevalence of these occurrences.
Here are some statistics from the National Sex Offender Public Website:
  • Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • Not all sexually abused children exhibit symptoms—some estimate that up to 40% of sexually abused children are asymptomatic; however, others experience serious and long-standing consequences.
  • Disclosure of sexual abuse is often delayed; children often avoid telling because they are either afraid of a negative reaction from their parents or of being harmed by the abuser. As such, they often delay disclosure until adulthood.
  • An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors.
  • About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.
And here are some statistics from Childhelp.org:
  • Children who experience child abuse & neglect are about 9 times more likely to become involved in criminal activity.
  • In one study, children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs were three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families.
  • As many as two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children.

This hits home because I could have easily fallen into drugs. The opportunities were certainly there. Yet, I didn’t. Perhaps part of it was seeing what that path had done for my stepdad, and I was extremely determined to alienate myself from him. I didn’t want to be anything like him. Or maybe it was because I received more education about the dangers of drugs than I did about the circumstances that could lead someone to trying them.

Here are some statistics from the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network about Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse. These are challenges I myself have had to overcome, and some which I still deal with to this day:

  • Survivors may have trouble sleeping because of the trauma, anxiety or may directly be related to the experience they had as a child; children may be sexually abused in their own beds.
  • Many survivors were betrayed by the very people they are dependent upon (family, teachers etc.) who cared for them, who insisted they loved them even while abusing them; learning to trust can be extremely difficult under these circumstances.
  • Many survivors re-experience the sexual abuse as if it were occurring at that moment, usually accompanied by visual images of the abuse. These flashes of images are often triggered by an event, action, or even a smell that is reminiscent of the sexual abuse of the abuser.
  • Many survivors go through a process where the mind distances itself from the experience because it is too much for the psyche to process at the time. This loss of connection with thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity, is a coping mechanism and may affect aspects of a survivor’s functioning.
  • Many things were — childhood experiences, trust, innocence, relationships with family members. The survivor may feel a deep sadness, jealousy, anger or longing for something never had.

So why am I writing this? My intent isn’t to write a sob story or depress anyone. If anything, it’s to educate about very important issues. I also want to inspire others who have gone through similar experiences, or who work with those who have.

It’s very easy to look at these statistics and feel like there’s no hope for children who have been in these situations. It’s very easy to make excuses or assumptions about a child’s lack of interest/care in school – “oh, he/she has a really rough home life. His/her parents are just not that involved. There’s no way they will make it in life.”

And that’s assuming one does know about a child’s home life and situation. Most of the time, childhood sexual abuse cases go unreported and children suffer in silence, just as I did. Sometimes this leads to other issues later in life, when it is much harder to do something about it.

What can change this? More discussion and education around these issues. It’s a hard fact to swallow, but 90% of the attackers is someone the child KNOWS. Yet, in my experience, this isn’t something that children are educated about. Even in my high school health class, this isn’t something I learned about. We learn so much about the dangers of drugs, gangs, violence, strangers, and yet almost nothing about what to do when you’re sexually abused as a child. We should be educating children from an early age about these things – obviously in an age appropriate way. Parents should also feel comfortable talking with their children about these issues. This is a resource for those who work with young children. 

Even though these horrible situations occur, that doesn’t mean it has to continue being horrible.

I am living proof that there is hope. I don’t like to believe that I was just “lucky” or that I am “one in a million” as I’ve often been told, because that implies that no one else will be able to overcome these situations. I refuse to believe or accept that.

I know it’s possible to fight against the odds.

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2 thoughts on “Statistics and Fighting Against the Odds

  1. Keep fighting! 🙂
    As a teacher, I agree that a lot of assumptions are made about students, and that these influence expectations and thus student performance, which is completely unfair. I struggle, though, with how to overcome this trap! It would seem that awareness isn’t always enough – it’s one thing to know that an assumption is false, or to mentally disagree with a stereotype, but that doesn’t erase that old familiar pathway in our minds. Sometimes I shock myself with the things I catch myself thinking when I haven’t been paying attention and my brain is allowed to default. I wonder how we can truly rewire ourselves . . . I know it’s doable, but it’s hard to articulate a process for it. Part of it is awareness, and making an active choice . . . I wonder if it’s enough? I think figuring that out is something we owe our students and ourselves.

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    • Definitely. I feel like it becomes hardwired into the ways we think, and it takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome these patterns of thinking. I think the environment you work in also plays a huge role. If you work in a space where others challenge or point out those negative ways of thinking in a productive/constructive way, perhaps over time you start to recognize those patterns. I think part of it is also really diving into the communities we work in and getting to know what life is like for a student outside of school, and understanding their perspectives. Instead of jumping to conclusions, learning to ask questions.

      At the last school I worked at, we were required to do a home visit for each of our students. While it was time-consuming and somewhat exhausting to coordinate, it was worth it. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and gave me really important background information about each child and where he or she was coming from. I felt I was also able to connect with students on a deeper level.

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