I've been reading short informal papers in which my students respond to the early chapters of the book Bone Black by bell hooks, which is the memoir of a girl growing up in a poor family in Kentucky in the 1950s. I read 60 of these short papers three times each week -- and I have been known to complain (just a little, of course) about the amount of time I spend reading student papers during a semester. Sometimes, though, what a student says will really hit home with me.
In one paper today, a young woman talked about how she grew up poor, and how she can remember feeling bad for not having the kind of clothes or toys other kids had. She said she thought she grew up poor until she read this book. Then she gave a quote from Bone Black: "We do not understand that our playmates who are eating laundry starch do so not because the white powder tastes so good but because they are sometimes without necessary food." The student wrote that that one sentence really struck her. "That is when I realized," she wrote, "that I have never been poor. I do not know what it is like to be poor."