Peggy Orenstien addresses a very serious reality that many black girls that live within low socioeconomic status and harsh environments experience, specifically during adolescence. For many (not all) black girls the negotiation of whether to go after personal achievement or caring for family’s well being is a constant battle that almost always has no positive outcome. Adolescence is defined as a developmental transition between childhood and adulthood. Many psychologist believe that this period is from puberty until 18 or 21. Today we are seeing that puberty is beginning at an earlier age than ever before for young girls. Menstruation cycles are beginning before reaching double digit ages for some girls. So if menstruation cycles signal puberty and puberty signals adolescence young girls enter this period at a very vulnerable age. Adolescence for young black girls in low socioeconomic status is a different experience.
In the section of “School Girls” labeled “The Junior Mother”, Peggy Orenstien has an inside view of how “the pressure to place their family’s well being over personal advancement” is handled by young black girls that live within a low socioeconomic status’. While reading this section which focuses on LaRhonda’s life I see several reasons why this negotiation between family and self takes place.
The reason I would like to focus on is low socioeconomic status. I believe that class, or specifically, money controls almost everything. In this book I believe that it is the most important factor. Not race or gender, but class is the the most important factor at Audubon Middle School. LaRhonda lives in a poor and dangerous neighborhood. The fact that her father is in jail places all of the family burdens on her mother. Like many, her mother is young without employment but continuously having children. With no steady income and no positive role models it creates a negative mentality. Imagine living in a family where there are no male figures, no one has finished school, and no one is employed. It makes it easier for LaRhonda and girls in this predicament to accept that lifestyle. That even though this is not the life they want, this is all they will ever be. This is the trickle down effect of how generations have direct influence on the next generation.
Not only does this low socioeconomic status place her in a poor neighborhood but it also puts her in a horrible school district. We all know that better neighborhoods have more money which leads to more efficient schools. These schools in poor neighborhoods are often overcrowded and teachers are underpaid. More importantly, students are forgotten about. It is no surprise to me that some of the girls could not read. In many poor neighborhoods that is the reality. This adds a different dynamic to the hardship. Not only is home life for some black girls strenuous due to lack of positive role models, but school life increases this bleakness. Imagine having teachers that are overwhelmed and do not care. Many teachers just pass children, that in richer school district would have been held back, to alleviate the hassle. So not only does home life fail these black girls, as Orenstien shows, but so does the school district. Being from the lower class causes these black girls to live in poor households and poor school system which gives them a poor mentality about how valuable an education is.
LaRhonda is no different from many other black girls in low socioeconomic status. She takes on the mother role early and most importantly she takes pride in this. The question is why is this something to take pride in? Poor home and school life makes it extremely easy to decide to be focused on others. Being responsible for her younger siblings will always come first. If she cant gain pride from her school work, she can gain pride from knowing that others can depend on her. She cant let them down. A lot of her confidence and self esteem comes from knowing that she is important to someone (her family/younger siblings). Something about life has to give her happiness. So when school is not that source, being depended on makes her happy.
In my personal life experience this is a very real reality and extremely relatable. I know people who stopped going to school as early as sixth grade. Even though it is a reality, I still find it hard to conceive that at 13 someone could just make a decision that they are not going to school anymore. But then I remember that where you come from and how you are raised is almost always a direct reflection of your life choices. Not saying that you cannot overcome these obstacles but many do not. And for many people the socioeconomic class they are born in is the same one they will die in. Lower socioeconomic class decreases the possibilities of success. Limited role models and horrible school systems stunt growth and school becomes less of priority. I hope the connection between socioeconomic status and young black girls choosing family over school is better understood. Socioeconomic status always matters.