Because I was chosen as one of the Toronto District School Board’s writers in residence I’ve been going to various schools who’ve won visits from me.

On Thursday I was lucky enough to go to a school I’d been to several times before!

One of the things I like best about the Toronto School board is that they really make a conscious effort to equalize the situations between the various public schools. The public schools in underpriveleged areas get extra funds to give their students opportunities to learn and better themselves.

These are often called ‘model’ schools. But basically, they’re ‘poor’ schools. The only ones who don’t seem to know it are the kids who go there.

When I first got published, these were the schools I went to the most! Being in poor areas, they had LOTS of Muslim students, the children of immigrants who were struggling to establish themselves just like my family did when we first got here.

I don’t see anything wrong with being poor.

I grew up poor.

I remember watching The Carol Burnett Show where she appeared on stage at the end of the show as a cleaning lady with a mop and bucket. I kind of admired her for it.

Growing up, the most interesting stories I read were often about poor kids like me.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was ‘poor’ according to our standards. So was Jesus (peace be upon him). And Moses may have grown up in the pharoah’s palace but he was definitely ‘poor’ later on.

What’s the shame in it?

I really don’t get it.

I guess the fact that my father would often say this particular saying, “Poverty is my pride.” also cemented into me that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with not having money.

And as I looked upon the other people at school who always inevitably had more than me, I reflected on the fact that the stuff they had didn’t actually make them better people.

They just had more stuff. And I came to the conclusion a LONG time ago that what you HAVE is not what DEFINES you.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m weird that way.

But the mistake I made on Thursday when I went to this ‘poor’ school, was mentioning the fact that it was indeed a poor school and that most of the kids in the school were ‘poor’.

Now of course, there’s poor and there’s ‘poor’.

The ‘poor’ in Canada still have ipods and fancy shoes and microwaves and color T.V.’s. (Wasn’t there a Republican ad not too long ago about that very thing?) And then there are those who are really poor and go hungry.

I don’t have an ipod. I suppose I could buy one, but I don’t see the point of wasting money like that.

But anyway, the point is, the kids got indignant when I said they were poor.

They didn’t realize it. They just didn’t see it.

Other  people were poor, not them!

And yet, in every single category they qualified as those who were disadvantaged.

And that told me they’d bought into the negative idea of being poor. Wow. Just wow.

And then I started looking at it from their perspective. The thing about that school was that there wasn’t very much income disparity.

Everyone was basically at the same level. They were basically ALL poor. So of course if you grow up surrounded by people who are at basically the same economic level as you, you won’t ‘feel’ poor.

You’ll feel normal–even if you’re not exactly, compared to the rest of the country.

Well…anyway, what I really learned was don’t ever tell a group of kids that they’re poor! It’ll distract from the message of the rest of the presentation!

When I told my daughters and son in laws about the experience, they all basically told me, “Duh! You don’t say that!”

And one of my daughters even went on to say that the way I viewed things was ‘weird’. So basically I’m just weird.

Uh huh. It isn’t the first time they’ve come to that conclusion, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.