Lost potential: The poverty barrier

I have always been interested in potential. The word denotes a state of possibility. It is indefinite, in that it expresses an uncertain outcome.

I recently came across an excellent talk via a link on G+ by  Dr Stephen Krashen. After the talk he gave an interview in which he reflected on his ideas. I found the interview even more interesting than the talk!

Here is the interview:

There were a number of points that Krashen made which resonated with me. He talked about his work with the poor in California where he lives. He stated that it is poverty that is at the root of educational under-performance in his country. He then railed against the obsession with testing that is going on stating, memorably: “we are weighing the children and not feeding them!”

At the moment I am reading “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book he talks about the way that opportunity plays a significant part in the achievement of potential. I have just read the section on Chris Langan, the genius who was born into a harsh, poor environment and who has never been able to achieve the obvious huge potential that he has because he did not have the social skills to use the system to his advantage.

Here is a relevant description from the Wikipedia entry on Langan’s life:

He has recently been profiled in Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers: The Story of Success,[26] where Gladwell looks at the reasons behind why Langan was unable to flourish in a university environment. Gladwell writes that although Langan “read deeply in philosophy, mathematics, and physics” as he worked on the CTMU, “without academic credentials, he despairs of ever getting published in a scholarly journal”.[27] Gladwell’s profile on Langan mainly portrayed him as an example of an individual who failed to realize his potential in part because of poor social skills resulting from, in Gladwell’s speculation, being raised in poverty (my use of bold).

I have just read an interesting interview in The Huffington Post in which C. M. Rubin interviewed Diane Ravitch. In the interview they touch upon the fact that poverty is seen by many as the barrier to academic success. Interestingly, she states in the interview that the injection of “good teachers” into poor area schools will not achieve the desired “rise in standards”.

This all reminds me so much of a quote I read right ast the start of my teaching career in the 1970′s. The quote came from Professor Basil Bernstein and was: “Education cannot compensate for society“.

The more I read and look at the obvious evidence that is in front of us, the more I feel that Bernstein was right. Schools cannot be the means to achieve the changes that politicians desire. The politicians do not tackle the huge problems of trying to be educated coming from a poverty stricken home which is often bereft of books, extended conversation or any idea that education has any value at all.

In the midst of all this concern with poverty I bemoan the loss to the world of the potential of the children. I have often stated to anyone who would care to listen, that the cure to Cancer may lie in the minds and actions of a child in the streets of Rio Di Janeiro  or Calcutta or any of the many many places in the world where children’s daily lives are about survival and where the next meal will come from and not in the understanding of Shakespeare or Calculus!

When oh when will we understand that the fight for education begins with the fight against poverty?

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