Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Opinion: Plano students sip Starbucks, learn “empathy” during poverty simulation
Why didn't they volunteer at a pantry? Or, even just talk to neighbors in need?
PLANO The Plano ISD Council of PTAs recently hosted its second poverty simulation in which participants played poor people for a few hours and were allowed to steal items because, you know, that’s what poor people do. It is the second such simulation this month. At each event, participants were assigned different roles from drop outs to single moms to ex-cons and were asked to cope with their life situations including loss of transportation money. The three hour simulation, according to the Plano Courier, forced participants “to go to different aid agencies, shop for groceries, take care of their children and go to work” as part of a simulated month of poverty. Sounds like a messed up version of The Game of Life to me.
Cheryl Jackson of Minnie’s Food Pantry, a Plano-based charity, told WFAA (Channel 8) allowing people to steal as part of a poverty simulation isn’t effective. “The people who are in this line are mothers and fathers who are working two and three jobs, trying to make ends meet,” Jackson told WFAA. “They’re not the thieves out there. That’s not the concept… these are real people.” I wonder why the Plano PTA members didn’t just volunteer at the pantry? Or simply walk outside and talk with their neighbors in need? Serve with Meals on Wheels? That’s real empathy, folks.
The poverty simulation, according to Plano organizers, was meant to help Plano parents and students understand the needs of those in a diversifying district where more and more families and residents are going without: 28% of students in Plano ISD receive free or reduced lunches. But how do you simulate poverty in an environment where participants sipped Starbucks coffee while they played poor people and were allowed to steal? Organizers said that stealing does happen in real life. Um, rich people steal in desperate (and greedy) situations as well, not just the poor. And many of those in desperate situations are equally willing to give back, to barter, to take on three jobs to make ends meet.
I have participated in a poverty simulation. At Baylor, as part of my study program, I was required to do service work. For three days, I, and dozens of other students, wore donated clothing items, volunteered at local housing projects and slept outside. We also had to earn money to eat. This was done by either working (we had to ask people to let us work) or primarily by begging. Days later, funky, tired, sick of walking, I was a changed woman.
I doubt the Starbucks-sipping "poor" actors in Plano can say the same.
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