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

Chapter 1. Understanding the Nature of Poverty

  • Poverty can happen to almost anyone due to a sudden crisis, or it can extend from one generation to the next. It usually involves lack of access to the basic needs of life and is always relative to the community as a whole. Poor people in urban areas usually have a somewhat different set of stresses than those in rural areas where poverty is generally 10% more common. Poor households are more crowded, noisy, and physically deteriorated. Homes and neighborhoods contain a greater number of safety hazards.
  • Children living in poverty tend to spend less time finding out about the world around them, more time struggling to survive within it, and are more likely to rely on peers than on adults for social and emotional support. They experience fewer cognitive-enrichment opportunities, have fewer books at home, visit the library less, and spend considerably more time watching TV. Their environment is more chaotic and unstable. They are more likely to have single/guardian homes, and their parents or caregivers tend to be less emotionally responsive and have negative attitudes towards school. They are more likely to be born premature, have low birth weight and disabilities, and they are more likely to exposed to hazardous substances along with alcohol and other drugs in the womb.
  • As a result, their brains will typically develop adverse adaptive responses, and they have difficulty establishing rewarding friendships with children their own age. To make matters worse, they get less positive reinforcement from teachers and less help with schoolwork at home. They often feel isolated and unloved. Such stresses lead to symptoms like chronic tardiness and absenteeism, lack of motivation, and inappropriate behavior.
  • Teachers don’t need to come from their students’ cultures but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential. So is a culture of caring and respect even if students don’t always act in a manner that deserves respect. Even students with low cognitive ability can spot a condescending tone of voice. (Doug: When their parents do show up you need to treat them the same way. Respond to rude parent behavior with kindness. You can wear them down sooner or later.)
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