"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Education Cannot Solve Poverty

There is the myth that climate has changed before so we, humans, cannot be responsible for what is currently happening with our planet. Myths owe their longevity to their intrinsic appeal to common sense. Unfortunately, attractiveness is the only thing that myths have. It is completely divorced from reality. Another myth embraced by so many is the belief that education is the solution to poverty. I used to subscribe to this idea as well. After all, my education was indeed responsible for where I am now. However, in an analogous fashion, it has been very cold this winter, even the great lakes have been frozen, so global warming is probably a hoax. Of course, these are individual points. Temperatures in my neighborhood do not necessarily represent the long term trends in global climate. The globe is so much bigger than my backyard or even the continent where I live. The same holds for education. Individual cases are not sufficient to show that education is the solution to poverty. In the same manner, famous school dropouts who have founded successful companies cannot be used as arguments against staying in school.

Poverty crushes education. Education cannot solve poverty. It is the other way around. Problems in education can be alleviated if poverty is addressed first. In "Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind", Eric Jensen makes clear that poverty can block student learning through the following factors:
  • Health and nutrition
  • Vocabulary
  • Effort and energy
  • Mind-set
  • Cognitive capacity
  • Relationships
  • Stress level
One factor in school that may mitigate effects of poverty on learning is the teacher. Unfortunately, teacher quality is likewise affected by poverty, as seen in the following graph:

Above figure copied from "Looking at the Best Teachers and Who They Teach"
Schools attended by poor children have less highly effective teachers. Poor children are three times more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers. Of course, some may point out that more teachers are rated ineffective in schools where pupils are poor simply because it is much more difficult to teach in those schools. Either way, this simply highlights the reality that poverty crushes education.

It’s often said that a good education will help lift children out of poverty. In fact, the opposite is more often true: not living in poverty allows children to do well in school. 
Low literacy rates in low-income areas aren’t a curriculum issue or a pedagogy issue. They’re a social justice issue. Reducing poverty rates (and improving literacy) requires more than a new reading program or even better social services. It means actively working for policies that fight income inequality, like a higher minimum wage, stronger labour laws and restoration of federal and provincial corporate tax rates to fair levels. Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
A professor at the University of Illinois - Urbana, Champaign, John Marsh, together with his colleagues, used to teach humanities classes in the evening to low-income adults in the community from 2005-2009. The program is called the Odyssey project. Marsh wrote a book about three years ago to explain further what he really thought about this project:


That book is "Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality"

Class Dismissed

Education cannot solve poverty. Class dismissed....




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