Tag Archives: Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It

Children and Poverty – Here’s a Problem Worthy of our Most Focused Attention (Eric Jensen, Teaching With Poverty in Mind)

There are people with plenty.  There are others with far from plenty.  The poor are always at the top of mind at the Urban Engagement Book Club (sponsored by CitySquare).  Today, I am presenting my synopsis of Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It by Eric Jensen for this very different book discussion/community conversation gathering.

The book is good.  It is focused on the school environment — but it provides a good reminder of the overall impact of poverty  on people and the larger society.  Here are two excerpts that summarize the essence of the book:

Problem:
35 percent of poor families experienced six or more risk factors (such as divorce, sickness, eviction); only 2 percent experienced no risk factors.  In contrast, only 5 percent of well-off families experienced six or more risk factors, and 10 percent experienced none.  The aggregate of risk factors makes everyday living a struggle; they are multifaceted and interwoven, building on and playing off one another with a devastating synergistic effect.  In other words one problem created by poverty begets another, which in turn contributes to another, leading to a seemingly endless cascade of deleterious consequences.
It’s safe to say that poverty and its attendant risk factors are damaging to the physical, socioemotional, and cognitive well-being of children and their families.

Moving toward Solution:
The worse off kids are, the greater the potential gain.  If students come from good home environments, not much more than good teaching is necessary.  But if students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, enrichment can have a dramatic impact on learning.  And in these cases, an enrichment mind-set is crucial:  every staff member must be on board and fully believe that every kid can succeed.
You’ll know when everyone at your school is on board.  You’ll see it in the hallways, hear it in the classrooms, and feel it from the kids.  You’ll notice that students enjoy their classes and overall school experience and are hopeful about the future; that teachers share information and strategies with colleagues and discuss issues constructively; that the staff lounge area airs more success stories than complaints; and that the teachers give affirmations and support to kids all day.
The first prerequisite for change is your belief in it – and your willingness to change yourself first.  We can help kids rise above their predicted path of struggle if we see them as possibilities, not as problems… Students brains don’t change from more of the same.  We must believe that change is possible; understand that the brain is malleable and will adapt to environmental input; and be willing to change that input.

We are all busy people.  But I hope we will make some time in our schedule to think about those with the greatest needs.  What we read, what we think about, what we pay attention to…  all of this can lead us to do good things, better things, with our time and our resources.

And the need is so very great.