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Poverty In All Its Richness

Poverty can gravely impact student learning. That’s not an original insight, of course. It’s as obvious as anything can be, except to many folks who have reaped the benefits of privilege; they often play down the destructive effects of privation.

The latest evidence of poverty’s destructive power is reflected in a survey of teachers conducted in England and reported by the BBC. Some stats:

  • “More than 85 percent of survey respondents (627 participated) said they believed that poverty had a negative impact on the well-being of pupils they taught.
  • Of the above, “80 percent said students came to school tired, 73 percent said they arrived hungry and 67 percent said they wore worn-out clothes…”
  • “71 percent said pupils living in poverty lacked confidence, and 65 percent said they missed out on activities outside school…”

Of surveyed teachers, 80 percent associated poverty with underachievement and inability to concentrate. The lack of computer access was cited also.

Teachers noted some disturbing images from their actual experience: a child suffering from infected toes because his feet were cramped in very old shoes that his family couldn’t afford to replace; a child who had not eaten for three days because his mother had no money until a distant payday; a child who was laughed at because peers observed him in the locker room without underpants because cash on hand in his household was needed for bread and milk.

The British government claims it is “overhauling the welfare and schools systems : to tackle the root problems of poverty, but their description of these causes fails to fully acknowledge the inherent culpability of the economic structures of society.

In America, the Republicans would no doubt accuse the advocates for these children of being driven by class envy and lacking the kind of self-reliance and “exceptionalism” that made our nation great.