In 1993 Valerie Polakow wrote Lives on the Verge to deal with the plight of single mothers and their children in the “other” America. The term “other America” is used to indicate that in America there are two classes: the other America and the rest of the world. The “other” America refers to the American population that faces these difficulties. Their status does not equate to the status of America we recognize. “Normal America” was a class of Americans who could fulfill their fundamental needs. That is, the rich individuals in the US. This book was written at a time when poor single mothers and their children encountered a lot of discrimination because of their social status. This was as a result of the beliefs and myths that existed back then, presenting the poor as unworthy and undeserving. The book revolves around three aspects; the problem, the causes and what ought to be done to solve the problem or to reduce its impact.
This book brings out a picture of how life was like for poor single mothers and their children in America. They were set apart to belong in another America, which is believed to be different from the America we know. According to Valerie Polakow, poverty was been feminized and infantilized in the United States. This made it difficult for poor mothers and their children to reside there. United States is one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. Valerie Polakow, therefore, seeks to understand address the poverty, destitution, and the struggle for survival that was faced by single mothers in US. Valerie further states that one in five children and one in two single mothers did not have a means of meeting their basic needs. This book shows that more than thirteen million children live in poverty in the United States today, where the majority come from poor single mother families. Valerie seeks to explain why this does not have to be the case in the US.
Poverty was seen as a private affair, where nobody cared about these mothers and children. Even the government was not committed to addressing the problems that were facing these mothers and their children. Valerie in Lives on the edge seeks to understand why this is the case. Valerie Polakow used historical and ideological sources to understand the society’s attitudes toward single mothers and their children. The historical sources explained this by presenting some kind of discrimination that was faced by these mothers and their children. They were addressed as the undeserving poor and the dangerous class.
Valerie Polakow was an educator and a committed child advocate, who drew attention on the social, historical, feminist, and public policy perspectives towards developing an informed critique of American educational and social policy. The use of interviews was quite good in this case because, it helps the author and the readers to get a clear picture of the themes addressed in this book. Polakow effectively uses narrative reports on the interviews with her respondents and wider theoretical analyses of the dynamics of childhood poverty to take us into the daily lives of single mothers and their children. She interviewed six black teenage mothers and five slightly older white mothers and revealed the struggles they face and how they cope in the face of inadequate social-support systems.
Valerie further took an in-depth look at the life their children live within the school environment. I agree with Valerie when she says that school is a place where children are either at risk or at promise. That is, school is a place where these children are given an opportunity to make their lives better or worse. I further agree with Valerie that educators play a huge role in molding the lives of children from poor single-mothers backgrounds. Polakow examined the early classroom experiences of selected poor children. She concluded that educators’ discriminatory assumptions and expectations often failed to enrich such childhoods. This discouraged such children and contributed towards their failure.
Valerie noted that the US was short of the level of social services that was being offered in other Western industrialized countries. However, the government made no attempts to improve the conditions of these single mothers and their children. There existed a wide gap between the other America and the normal America we know. Her recommendations on the areas of social policy and education points towards useful cross-cultural models as well as successful small-scale programs in the United States. By giving a living sense of the other America, she helps us to realize that the other America is no different than ours.
Valerie recommends the provision of a universal health care, a national child-care system, affordable housing, child allowances, parental leave, and better education. She acknowledged that such measures did not have the support of the law and that of the public. However, she seeks to change the way in which the rich view the poor. This will fetch support for such measures from the public and hence the government. Indeed the provision of these services will, to some extent, bridge the gap between the other America and the normal America. This will also improve the social status of poor single mothers and their children.
In conclusion, this book is very educative and hence important, for America and other nations as well. It brings out the intended themes clearly, demanding the attention from both the public, educators and the government at large. However, the book does not deal in any depth with possible solutions to the problem. It only provides measures that can reduce poverty if they are put in place. Further, it is still a challenge because some of these measures might not be politically feasible. However, looking at the current America, most of these measures such as provision of affordable housing and child allowances have been successfully implemented.