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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Poverty and learning: What's my problem with this USA Today article?

As some of you may have seen, I work with children and I get a little disgusted when I read things that just don't make sense. My blog today addresses an issue that really tweaked my bad attitude:

How damaging and irresponsible is this article from USA Today about how poverty dramatically affects children’s brains? As a person who came from a family that has experienced its fair share of poverty (even to the point of homelessness), I have to take offense at some of the assertions made in this article by Mr. Greg Toppo. This is a classic example of the old chicken and egg debate. Which came first, the poverty or the impaired brain function? To say that poor kids are more likely to have lowered brain function is just ridiculous. How did they come to this conclusion? Did they ever think that the impaired brain function might be the reason for the poverty and not the other way around?

To say that poor children aren’t necessarily as sharp as kids from middle class families is just prejudicial. It has been proven time and again that kids can rise above their family circumstances if they are given the right opportunities to learn and grow. I don’t believe that poverty has anything to do with their capacity for learning or their ability to function in society other than its impact on their ability to fit in with middle and upper class kids on a superficial level. If a poor child were to read Toppo’s article, they would definitely get the wrong impression and feel as though they were doomed to failure. Of course, from the sound of it, maybe poor kids aren’t capable of reading articles? It’s simply absurd to write something like this and put it out there as a substantial finding.

Poverty causes a lot of things, but the inability to learn and think is not included in that list. Those things come from a lack of exposure to what they need to know to succeed. Instead of doing studies on how a lack of money translates into cognitive dysfunction, they should be putting their funding into finding ways to get the necessary resources out to schools that have no money. Poverty is the lack of money and resources. It is a direct result of kids who get lost in a system that fails to recognize that no matter what their economic status is, all children do not learn things the same way. It is a direct result of a failure to provide adequate funding to schools so that they have what they need to encourage all children to learn. A child who is not getting their needs met due to the conditions of poverty is more likely to be preoccupied by a rumbling stomach or the lack of clean, suitable clothing to wear to school, but they are by no means, unable to figure things out.

Poverty also causes things like determination, spunk and ambition. How do you explain that? Tell me why a poor kid wouldn’t be able to achieve the same things as a rich kid if they were shown the way. Guess what, poor children develop differently because their parents don’t have the time or ability to sit down and read to them or play games that reinforce their learning. Why? Because they are working or worrying about how to pay the bills or they were never shown what they needed to learn themselves, that’s why. Put anyone in a house for eighteen years where no one has time to talk, let alone read and you will get the same result: some level of deficiency in that person’s ability to learn or take an interest in learning. Hell, half of us can’t think straight until we’ve had our morning coffee. What if you couldn’t afford to have coffee? Would that mean you were disabled? This study implies that poor kids were somehow born with a deficient brain. The reality is that parts of the brain may be under stimulated due to circumstances created by poverty. I’m no scientist, but I believe that there’s a big difference between the two.

I’m sorry, but I think the USA Today article is a bunch of bull. The people who did this study must be in league with the same people who created the performance indicator system that so many companies now use to measure their effectiveness. They enjoy making people pay attention to things that really never mattered and having them measure insignificant details. This takes your attention away from some of the bigger problems like where the money for the schools is actually going and why we can’t do more to work with students who need a little more attention. As always, inducing panic in the masses equals job security for the privileged few.

Until next time.

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