Dangerously Irrelevant: Beware outside consultants? – Part 2, Ruby Payne started a whole slew of arguments about poverty. Can education “fix” poverty? Can eduction be effective without addressing the underlying poverty of the poor? There were a lot of assumptions, especially among those with a deficit view, that I’ll sum up as “poor folks, have poor habits”. The lefties in the bunch had arguments that seemed divorced from the reality of teaching in high poverty because their answer was, you need to address poverty first, which most teachers do not feel they are in a super position to address. I just think they don’t know how, and that school leaders have not yet recognized that the importance of schools to do just that.
Here is an example of that vagueness:
I’ve decided to do a series on poverty. The posts will start with theory, look at an anecdote from my or another teachers experience, and last, will finish with approaches that can be used in those situations. While the “solutions” may not always work, but they are more helpful than talking about how lacking poor parents are, or saying the answer is to fight poverty. This first post will be on the overall theories of poverty, next up will be on choice, and the third will be on parents and communities…
“Conservatives say if you don’t give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they’ve lost all incentive because we’ve given them too much money. “– George Carlin in brain droppings
George Carlin has a point, and that’s not just my opinion by the opinion of an interesting economist, Charles Karelis that I ran across here at Economist’s View: Is Poverty Caused by Irrational Behavior?
Karelis’ view is actually the opposite of the title, in that he finds that poverty causes people not be rational actors (and make rational choices), because they have too many problems simultaneously to give attention to any one of those problems (like say, their kid’s education).
If, for example, our car has several dents on it, and then we get one more, we’re far less likely to get that one fixed than if the car was pristine before…
In recent decades, experts and policy makers all along the ideological spectrum have worried that the more aid the government gives the poor, the less likely they are to work to provide for themselves. … It was this concern that drove the Clinton administration’s welfare reform efforts. But, according to Karelis, that argument is exactly backward. Reducing the number of economic hardships that the poor have to deal with actually make them more, not less, likely to work, just as repairing most of the dents on a car makes the owner more likely to fix the last couple on his own. …
Those problems become stressors (lack of money, violence, etc.) that lead to brain damage that we see in some of these reports, Study: Poverty dramatically affects children’s brains – USATODAY.com, Poverty may impair growth of brain : News-Record.com : Greensboro, North Carolina I remember seeing a post somewhere after these news reports coming out, saying, yeah we know this is true, now what do we do? Karelis says we need to quit being afraid to fix the problems of the poor directly, but there is something else that Karelis talks about that I think can be extremely helpful and a foot in the door for teachers dealing with this.
Karelis discusses the economic theory of marginal utility with regards to this behavior. It’s similar to an idea in behavior science called the affective filter, and specifically having what’s called a HIGH affective filter.
When families are stressed out, they can’t always hear what you are offering, or accept help. You have to lower that filter to work with them. You all have been very patient while I outlined my theory, so here is where I show how this can work in a school…
My principal is on a mission (he’s that kind of guy). He wants to build relationships with some of our most “difficult” families. He spends a lot of time talking to them, and more importantly listening to them and their concerns. I facilitate our site SST meetings where students having problems are discussed with their parents. He is trying to implement this long term relationship building plan. I was resistant at first because my background working in a behavior school led me to trying to develop discipline and behavior plans that were not parent dependent. The problem with my approach is that kids who are acting out will keep pressing things until you have to involve their parent, so then your alternative becomes suspending them, which doesn’t resolve the long term problem. I think his approach will probably be better for this. In a sense I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff over time as I’ve sat on the student study team.
When parents have a kid with a behavior problem, I share my son’s horrible first grade year. This lets them feel like they are talking to someone who is a mother, and not a teacher who is judging them. With my son having ASD (autism), and the school nurse having two adopted kids on ADD meds, we have a lot of the behavior issues that come up covered. This is not easy. I will share that the hardest thing I have to do is see parents wrestling with a child who may have a language disorder (and the possibility of an autism diagnosis). Those parents always seem to end up in tears, and I feel that because I’ve been there. I never cry with them, but I try to convey to them that I’ve felt that pain. This all helps lower their affective filter. I also try to give them things they can do that are possible, and probable, like behavior plans, etc. I give tips on how to structure those so they are effective, and are not a complete pain in the butt. I tell them it can be hard, but I tell them it’s possible.
Does this work every time? No, but it works better than sitting in a circle around the parent saying, this is what you need to do. Does this address Paul Gorski’s points about addressing the underlying problems of poverty, no, but it is a precondition to doing that which I’ll cover in my last post. So readers, what do you do to lower the affective filter of parents?