Berkeley has a new study that shows that “the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.”
“Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult,” said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. “We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response.”
Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but according to cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first author of the new paper, “those studies were only indirect measures of brain function and could not disentangle the effects of intelligence, language proficiency and other factors that tend to be associated with low socioeconomic status. Our study is the first with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity.”
The Washington Post has an interesting article on whether or not people should ignore poverty’s impact. Or at least that’s what the title says.
Should teachers ignore poverty and teach and be held responsible if the students don’t learn? Or should teachers teach and know that poverty is going to have an impact on their students?
One writer said:
Of course, there are teachers who give up far too easily and make excuses. I think of myself as a reasonably hard worker and someone who gives every child my best effort.
But there are fantastic doctors who have patients that die. Is it always the doctor’s fault? Certainly there are patients who will not survive despite a great doctor’s heroic efforts.
Another agrees with that idea, but has a different metaphor:
Imagine a football coach who designs his plays with no regard to the talents of his players, half of whom are on crutches, deaf or blind. And even if they are not so handicapped, if they have no ability to catch or throw a ball, running a pass-oriented West Coast style offense will not work.
Someone else had a very different view:
Full personal responsibility for student achievement and refusing to blame other factors does NOT mean we ignore the other factors; it simply means we view other factors as challenges and problems that require solutions, and we view the possibility of solutions as fitting inside our personal sphere of influences vs. shrugging our shoulders and giving up.
I think that there can be a middle ground. Don’t give up just because they are in poverty. Those students can learn. But don’t hold the teachers responsible for teaching them everything their parents should have been teaching them for the first six years of their lives either.
Is it possible that the issue of the brain isn’t poverty so much as it is low stimulation?
I would like to see the study replicated and split the poverty kids into two groups. Have one group where the parents are attending college or clearly doing something to move themselves out of poverty. In the other group they can have whomever. Does that change the picture?
Could it be that the damage is not poverty but the lack of intellectual involvement?
Just a thought.
It comes from the fact that my family was desperately poor when I was younger. Until I was about 10 we often went to bed hungry. But I doubt sincerely that my brain shows any dysfunctions.