Poverty and Education

I posted the following comments related to poverty and education on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 26, 2013:


“Eleanor Roosevelt did not look at the poor from the vantage point of judgment from above. She involved herself directly in the tenements in NYC, and as a young woman, Eleanor brought her future husband and cousin, Franklin, with her to work with the poor in those tenements, for their betterment.

In the course of my 70 years, I have seen society turn away from valuing developing programs to help those in poverty as happened in the 1960s, with LBJ’s ‘War on Poverty,’ to valuing looking after one’s self primarily and making money for one’s self, which has become a primary national obsession since the 1970s, imo. Along with these personal monetary goals, ideologues have fostered the political goals of cutting government to the point that it would have little effect in helping to uplift those in impoverished conditions in our nation. Poverty tends to be generational unless educational intervention occurs which helps to change this unfortunate situation. It appears to me that many today are content simply to stand in judgment of poorer citizens, instead of desiring to help to them, as did Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, in their era of America’s history.

From a historical perspective, slavery existed in our nation for over 250 years – until the mid-1860s. Slaves were not even allowed to learn to read. Thereafter, Jim Crow laws enforced a poorer quality of education upon African-Americans, as well as forced a segregated life, without economic or cultural possibilities, upon the poorer black citizens. I began my teaching career in one of the last of the segregated schools in Georgia. I was the only white person in the all-black school. The year was 1969-70. That means that Jim Crow, in reality, only ended in the early 1970s in Georgia – almost 110 years after slavery was abolished, and only 43 years removed from today’s world. That was only two generations ago. We cannot change dependency (which was built into the national dynamic of this nation, itself, with slavery) in only two generations. However, we can ‘roll up our sleeves’ and know that it will take ‘a village of caring citizens’ and not just parents (who have often been victims, themselves, of generational poverty and of its demoralizing effect on hope for a better life) to change society for the better and to make it more equitable for all citizens. Victims of poverty sometimes think there is no hope for them because no one cares – or even sees – what they endure. We need balance, once again, in our nation. Government CAN be an agent to help alleviate much poverty and illiteracy. I believe in helping to instill self-reliance in others, not through punishment or through undue judgment, but through opportunities which a good, solid education will give the poor, along with the inspiration to improve their circumstances through educators who care about them and who believe in them. Poverty knows no single race of people, and it is one of the main reasons for the poor quality in our schools because of such inequities among students. We must start to attack poverty, once again in our nation, instead of incessantly attacking our public schools.”



I posted the following on “Get Schooled” on February 26, 2013:
“ ‘Focusing on school-only reform (the tenet of ‘no excuses’ school reform) ignores the corrosive power of poverty.’

The article by Professor Thomas contains much insight. Key words that come to my mind from having read his article are ‘Poverty,’ ‘Re-segregation,’ ‘Educational reform movement hurts minorities,’ ‘Minority education is not enriching,’ ‘Charter schools are not producing superior outcomes but are re-stratifying schools,’ ‘Standardized tests should not be used to label and rank students and teachers.’

Poverty has a causal relationship to poor educational results (see link below), yet a major way out of poverty is through quality education that genuinely improves. It has been said that ‘Education is the new Civil Rights Movement.’ I believe that statement to be true.

I am old enough to remember the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and the dramatic shift from the Jim Crow South and its terrible and unjust inequities. During that time our nation was more focused on eliminating poverty than it is today. Consciousness must be raised. That raising of consciousness will be the foundation for improvement in the inequities in society. We must, again, seek to elevate rather than to castigate. Slavery and Jim Crow created, over time, profound inequities that will take even more time and effort fully to correct. The answer cannot be found through surface thinking or through blaming, but through support and through authentically recognizing the value of every human being. We learn from one another. Everyone has worth that is far beyond results on a standardized test. There are different kinds of intelligences, just as there are different kinds of music which touch our souls in unique and different ways. We must tap into those natural variances in human beings without labeling some humans as superior to others. And, as educators we must continue to respect and value the differences in all students – without labeling students – even as we simultaneously recognize the differences within their achievement levels. Moreover, as educators, we must help the general public to see these truths which will foster racial harmony and insight instead of racial discord.

People are more than stereotypes. We know that as educators. And, as educators, we must, likewise, not think in educational stereotypes nor in simple dichotomies regarding educational approaches. We can embrace standardized testing, as physicians use test results to analyze a medical problem precisely, without thereafter labeling either students or teachers with those ascertained results. Testing must be used for diagnostic purposes only, and not for labeling or for punitive purposes. Furthermore, testing is only the beginning step toward fostering meaningful and enriching education, but we must not reject it altogether for it helps to analyze varied instructional levels correctly. Professor Thomas, however, is on-target when he states that children of impoverished environments must be given enriching, creative instruction which inspires and motivates them to learn, just as their more affluent peers receive. All students are motivated by larger ideas. We can embrace both testing and enrichment if we do not think in dichotomies and if we refuse to label based on those test results.

Poverty can be overcome and education can be improved but we must re-establish a national will to accomplish these goals. The underlying foundation for accomplishing these goals is to understand – deep within our souls and our individual consciousnesses – that all people are inherently equal as human beings. That was the foundational tenet of this nation. We must return to believing it to be true.


Some readers may be interested in the study by Dahl and Lochner (2005) which verifies causal relationship between poverty and academic achievement. Link below: ”

– See more at: http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2013/02/26/are-education-reforms-hurting-the-students-who-need-the-most-help-poor-and-minority-kids/?cp=2#sthash.KTFJNCuJ.dpuf

This entry was posted in All are inherently equal, Jim Crow Laws, Poverty and Education, Public Schools, Slavery. Bookmark the permalink.

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