What are some reactions to Paul Gorski's claims in "The Myth of the Culture of Poverty," and how does what Gorski talks about compare to commonly held beliefs in our culture regarding poverty?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Gorski is right in that the "culture of poverty" issue is secondary to the issue of "classism" that might be overtaking public education.  Referring to your example (that I removed), where Janet's mistake exists is in thinking that poor student behavior in academic success is something limited to those who are economically challenged.  When she says that "They don't care about school," it is a statement that applies to many children, cutting across socio- economic borders.  Janet should have said, "They don't care about school and I need to do more to help them to do so" or "They don't care about school--like most kids--and I have to counter this."  Janet's challenge is that she ends up locking students of a particular economic group into a set of behaviors that could very well apply to many students, regardless of class.

Gorski's points are data driven and are seeking to challenge the standard "culture of poverty" iideas.   Gorski's contention that the culture of poverty is something that enables a "classist" tendency to view "those kids" differently is a compelling one.

In seeking to understand the condition of poverty, teachers like Janet have locked children of a particular socio- economic status into a role from which they cannot escape. Gorski is fairly skilled enough to navigate the argument away from those who would suggest that because there is not a discernible "culture of poverty," this means that external action does not have to address issues of economic inequality.  Gorski is persuasive to this point:

For example, compared with their wealthier peers, poor students are more likely to attend schools that have less funding (Carey, 2005); lower teacher salaries (Karoly, 2001); more limited computer and Internet access (Gorski, 2003); larger class sizes; higher student-to-teacher ratios; a less-rigorous curriculum; and fewer experienced teachers (Barton, 2004). The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (2004) also found that low-income schools were more likely to suffer from cockroach or rat infestation, dirty or inoperative student bathrooms, large numbers of teacher vacancies and substitute teachers, more teachers who are not licensed in their subject areas, insufficient or outdated classroom materials, and inadequate or nonexistent learning facilities, such as science labs.

With this inclusion, Gorski makes it clear that there is poverty and socio- economic inequality that has to be addressed.  It is not going to be addressed with beliefs that "those kids can't learn" or "those kids are not going to be successful because they don't care."  It is going to be addressed when teachers embrace culturally relevant teaching and when those in the position of power recognize that there are challenges regarding class and education that have to be addressed. 

Gorski is his most persuasive when he concludes that poverty does exist.  The teacher has to acknowledge it and not be afraid to integrate it into their teaching capacity.  The tips that he gives in terms of being able to use the classroom as a "buffer" between the harsh conditions of economic reality and not using it as a means to lock our children into roles they find it difficult to transcend are compelling.   He is able to clearly suggest that teachers in the modern setting can recognize class differences as no different than any other form of culturally relevant and meaningful instruction in which all learners are challenged to reach the realm of scholarship.