“Pobrecito” roughly translates from Spanish into “poor little boy” and the “syndrome” is how Dr. Pedro Noguera, author of the book “The Trouble With Black Boys … and Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education,” describes well-meaning people who don’t expect much of students who are poor, minority or don’t have native English speakers at home.
“I use the term ‘pobrecito syndrome’ to describe those who lower expectations as a form of sympathy for disadvantaged students,” Noguera told me via email. “But our students need empathy, not pity, and they need to be challenged.”
Though it might be easier, we simply cannot afford to let ourselves shirk the difficult work of properly educating at-risk students of all races by writing them off as perpetually lower performers.
A recent Sallie Mae study, “How America Pays for College,” reported that students from wealthier families are more likely to receive larger scholarship awards than those from low-income families. At the same time, both public and private colleges are increasingly shifting their financial assistance to merit-based aid — as opposed to need-based awards — according to a May report from the New America Foundation.
Taken together, these trends have the potential to disproportionately impede minorities who leave high school inadequately prepared to compete for college admission with affluent, rigorously educated students. That translates into even fewer opportunities to earn a degree in a professional marketplace that more and more shuns workers possessing only a high school diploma.
As reasonable as it might seem to lower the bar for students who face many real hurdles to academic success, it is the absolute wrong approach to take.
Florida has “adopted a similar policy of setting different proficiency standards for different subgroups,” said Noguera. “This effectively sends the message that children of color will never measure up to white students and the achievement gap will never be closed. Such an approach institutionalizes disparities in achievement rather than ameliorating them.”