Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

May 18, 2013

TEACHING POOR KIDS THE MAGIC OF MANAGING MONEY


by Rosemary Reeves


Why can’t the poor manage money?  Answer: It’s all in their heads.

When I was a little girl living in the projects, my mother taught me that reading a good book was the most wonderful thing in the world, so when I began my first day at school I was excited to learn how to read and write.  Mom never described mathematics in the same magical way.  I soon found out why.  Numbers were merely functional.  Math had a neutral purpose and was nowhere near as interesting to me as a student in grammar school.  

My family was evicted from the projects after Mom got a job, which raised the family income above the poverty level.  Dad and Mom got a house several blocks away after being deemed eligible for a no-money-down, low-interest FHA mortgage.  They still struggled to pay their bills.  Money, or rather the lack of money, was the cause of many of an argument and the scourge of our household.  Words like “mortgage” and “bills” caused anxiety, provoked outbursts and instilled an unhealthy attitude toward money.  

As a child growing up in an environment where money was associated with everything negative and bad, it was best to avoid the subject.  There was also the belief within our family that managing money beyond merely paying bills was solely the province of the rich.  I remember evenings where the family gathered around the television to hear the nightly news.  At some point in the news there would be a report on the stock exchange.  Dad would often make some kind of joke or remark about the stock exchange being for “the rich guys” and what does that have to do with average people?  Likewise, when he read the newspaper, he always skipped the money section and turned to the next page.  

By the time I reached 8th grade, I learned to hate mathematics with a passion.  That was unfortunate because mathematics and money often go hand-in-hand.  But who could blame me? The students were constantly drilled and tested on useless number problems such as calculating the speed of a train that arrived in Montana from Utah at 4 pm.  In real life, no one but an engineer has to know the speed of a train.  If a passenger needs to find out when his train will arrive in Montana, all he has to do is look at the train schedule.

One day the math teacher walked into the classroom and I felt the usual sense of dread, anticipating an hour of intolerable boredom and imaginary trains arriving in Montana.  To my surprise, she stood at the head of the class and said, “Today, we’re going to do something different.  I’m going to teach you how to write a check.  You’ll need to know this when you are adults because you will have to pay bills.”  For the first time, I felt excited about learning math.

For the next several weeks, she taught us such things as how to open a bank account and calculate its balance after deductions.  We learned how to pay a bill with a check and about bank penalties for being overdrawn.  She pointed out the importance of knowing these things as we pay our rent or mortgage some day.  I was excited to learn it all, because this was useful information that I would apply in real life.  This was the magic of mathematics, the magic of managing money.

In 8th grade I had already made up my mind that I wanted to have my own apartment by the time I reached eighteen.  I wanted to hug the teacher for showing me all this.  Besides helping me toward that goal, I also desperately hoped that being taught how to manage money would save me from a life of financial struggle, like my parents.  I couldn’t learn from them how to manage money but it was wonderful that I could learn it in school.  Unfortunately, after a few weeks the teacher went back to the same old uninspiring and useless method of teaching math.  When I told her I wanted to learn more about bank accounts, she replied that I had been taught all a working adult needs to know to get by and it was time to move on to other things.

I was old enough by now to realize that most of the people I encountered in everyday life were middle-class and living a comfortable lifestyle.  Since this was the majority, it occurred to me that my mother and father must have made money mistakes along the way ─ big money mistakes.  

One of the biggest mistakes they made was thinking certain aspects of money management were only for the well-to-do.  Earlier I mentioned how Dad used to skip the money section of the newspaper.  When I grew up, I did the same thing.  I turned the page without even looking at it.  That’s because it seemed like a foreign language and on the television news they spoke this foreign language, babbling something incomprehensible about the Dow Jones industrial average and NASDAQ.  This was the part of the news that sounded like babble because I didn’t understand a word of it.  This was the part of the news where you got up, walked into the kitchen and made yourself a snack.  

The magic of mathematics disappeared almost as quickly as it surfaced, as my grades in math could attest.  The teacher who opened my eyes to the exciting world of managing money released me from the unhealthy way of thinking about money passed down from my parents, only to shut the prison cell once more and lock it for good. 

2 comments:

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  2. In the early years of public housing there were a number of immigrants among the project tenants. (My mother was a penniless immigrant from Scotland.) In those days, most immigrants were from Europe and their culture was similar. They came here in search of opportunity and eagerly adopted the American way of life.

    What we are seeing now are immigrants who did not come here merely for opportunity. They are refugees from war-torn countries. Many have witnessed and some have even committed unimaginable atrocities in their homeland. They grew up surrounded by nothing but violence. Some cannot or will not assimilate and yet our government has failed to employ sufficient measures to deal with this new and strikingly different immigrant population.

    Many African Americans are in conflict with these immigrants due to irreconcilable cultural differences. In my experience as someone who has lived in black neighborhoods for years, I have actually encountered refugees who were recruited as child soldiers in their war-torn homeland. There are lots of them here. They have untreated post-traumatic stress syndrome and other psychological problems. They are steered into public housing where they are, for lack of a better word, "dumped" on the poor black American population and it is causing tensions between them.

    There comes a time when facts are abundantly clear. Islam is incompatible with western society, period. It is time to take down the welcome sign for refugees and muslim immigrants. I know there must be other liberals who feel the same way and they are just afraid to say it. You cannot be a liberal and defend muslims who want to take away our freedom of speech and try to terrorize us. In this new world, we must redefine what it means to be a liberal.

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