Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Listen to "The Culture of Poverty"

Alexander Russo linked to this the other day, an NPR segment featuring Sudhir Venkatesh and William Julius Wilson on the "culture of poverty." If you're at all interested in the topic, it's worth a listen. If not, here are a few tidbits from the discussion anyway:

-Venkatesh gives a good summary of the conflicting theories regarding why people are poor -- it boils down to some believing that it's due to the culture of the people themselves vs. some who think that it's due to discrimination, lack of resources, and other outside factors.

-The first caller, Bob, is a teacher at a Title I school. He is genuinely frustrated, particularly with two things: that very few students will do homework (indeed, many people tell them that he's setting them up for failure by even assigning it), and that there's "almost physical resistance" to doing work in class. Both of these were definitely true when I taught as well -- it never ceased to shock me the degree to which students resisted doing what they were asked to do.

-Zach, who manages a public housing complex in Chicago, says the two largest trends he notices in his complex are: 1.) that it's almost all single mothers with multiple kids from multiple fathers, and 2.) that children see their mothers living off of welfare and aim no higher and the cylce repeats itself. He says that we should help these mothers for a few years but then tell them to move on.

-William Julius Wilson points out that there is now a five year limit on welfare, but agrees that the norms around them certainly influence children and their attitudes toward teen pregnancy, living in the projects, etc.

-Anita, a hispanic woman grew up in poverty says that she was able to attend a school full of white kids from wealthy neighborhoods and saw many of the same problems (e.g. drug use, teen pregnancy) that are typically associated with high-poverty neighborhoods.

-WJW says that this is a good point, but that the difference is that the wealthier kids have parents with the resources to pull them out of this and helm them overcome these behaviors. And he again plugs the Harlem Chidren's Zone as an excellent example of how to help kids overcome the disadvantages of poverty.

Which brings us back to what I wrote on Sunday -- it sure makes sense that social policy and educational performance would be linked, but it would be nice if we could figure out exactly how.


Roger Sweeny said...

How dare you imply that it is the students' fault. This "blaming the victim" tactic is used by neo-conservatives. We will never solve our problems until we have social democracy. Then, all our students will do well, like in Europe.

Unknown said...

What he says is true. It only touches the problem of course, but I don't think he ever suggest "blaming-the victim". Blaming the victim would be, "it's their fault for not finding the motivation to leave the cycle of poverty" whereas he simply states that there's a disparity between rich and poor, and that children usually only aspire to make as much as their parents do. I've been studying the achievement gap, and I believe in this cycle of poverty. Yes, social democracy has much to do with it, as does racism and ignorance. Even in Europe the culture of poverty exist. Europe just has more resources to address it in education because it actually tries unlike here.