How does one discuss one's reactions to Paul Gorski's claims in his article "The Myth of the Culture of Poverty" in comparison to commonly held beliefs in our culture regarding poverty?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To complete your assignment, you'll first want to do a deep, analytical reading of Paul Gourski's article "The Myth of the Culture of Poverty." To do a deep reading, you want to reach a thorough understanding of Gorski's argument. Luckily for you, the article is actually very well organized. He even takes the time to label each portion of his argument, especially each myth he is debunking. To start reaching a thorough understanding of the author's argument, you'll want to take notes, even mark up the copy of your article. Start by noting the thesis. Unlike most articles, he starts out by narrating a brief story about a particular teacher, so the thesis will take longer to find. However, the thesis is still located in the spot traditional for theses statement, which is the last one to two sentences of the introductory paragraph, or in this case, paragraphs plural. To be more specific, Gorski very clearly states just above his first heading that teachers like Janet have been influenced by what he calls the "'culture of poverty' myth," and that in order for teachers to be the best they can be, they need to "challenge this myth and reach a deeper understanding of class and poverty" ("The Myth of the Culture of Poverty"). After stating his thesis in which he also clearly defines the myth, he next explains exactly how this myth came to be coined and what research has already been done to prove that it's only a myth and not a cultural truism concerning poverty. More specifically, he states that research has already proven that all those who are impoverished do not "share a consistent and observable 'culture,'" but rather have as many differing values and ways of conduct as the rest of society. From there, he even labels and defines four different myths that have come to be believed about impoverished people and states what research has actually proven to be true. So, to complete your assignment, as you come to more clearly understand his argument, you'll want to focus on these four labeled myths and what he states is the reality. Once you understand these four myths and what research has actually proven to be true, you'll then be able to form your own opinion about what he's saying and discuss your reactions, which is what you've been assigned to do.

To think about your reactions, think about what you've already observed about poverty and what you already think is true about impoverished people. Do you find yourself believing any of these stereotypes Gorsky lays out, such as the belief that impoverished individuals are lazy or don't value education? If so, explain what prejudices you think you've held before. Have they changed since reading the article? If so, explain in detail how your perspectives have changed and why? What do you now believe to be true about impoverished people? Does poverty stem from character flaws as the myth holds, or does poverty stem from social injustices? Does the impoverished individuals' inability to succeed as well in education stem from character flaws and lack of values as the myth holds, or does it stem from social inequalities as Gorski argues? Based on your directions, "... and compare what Gorski talks about to commonly held beliefs in our culture regarding poverty," it might also be rightly assumed that you've already read other things in your course material about poverty. So, as you think about your reactions, take the time to compare Gorski's arguments to anything else you've already read concerning cultural beliefs about poverty. If there are no other articles you've already read about poverty, then you'll base your analysis on your own personal experiences, knowledge, and prejudices. However, the first step in the assignment is to gain a thorough understanding of all parts of Gorski's argument by deeply reading the article so that you can think critically about the material and gauge your reactions.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question asks for the student's reactions to Mr. Gorski's article, and therefore, requires this personal response. However, in order for student to react in a fairly objective manner, there may be some points made here that will assist.

One important conclusion that Mr. Gorski has made is the following:

Most important, we must consider how our own class biases affect our interactions with and expectations of our students. 

What often happens is that the teacher, who is usually from a middle-class background, brings middle-class expectations to the classroom and unconsciously applies middle-class values to students. Doing so often causes great misunderstanding. This situation is exemplified in E.R. Braithwaite's autobiographical To Sir, With Love, Braithwaite, who is an engineer from British Guana and raised in an upper-level home, comes to London's East End, the lower socio-economic part of the city. At first, he is appalled by the students' vernacular, cursing, vulgar behavior, and racial attitudes. But, as he later realizes, he is equally prejudiced against the students because of his class bias; it is only after he gets to know them, that he understands what is behind their rough veneers. 

Still, understanding is not the same as excusing. One area in which many teachers of different races would disagree with Gorski is in what he says about spoken language,

Appalachian varieties, perhaps, or what some refer to as Black English Vernacular—are no less sophisticated than so-called "standard English."

The real truth is that, whether or not it is justified, people DO judge other people's level of knowledge or education based upon how they speak. So, while the teacher must not ridicule students with poor commands of Standard English, he or she should encourage students to learn to speak in a manner that will not label them or be a cause of ridicule, and strong dialects are anything but¨sophisticated.¨ In an essay on the English language, George Orwell wrote that having a good vocabulary is requisite for having great thoughts since without it, those thoughts cannot be expressed. Moreover, Orwell contends, it is almost impossible to even formulate a great thought in one's mind if one does not possess the precise words as well as words with the appropriate nuances. So, a command of English does, indeed, have great significance. 

While poor people may not be any less motivated that other classes, they are, perhaps, more discouraged and do not perceive ¨an out¨ since they themselves have not found one. Middle class parents talk to their children about ¨when you go to college¨ or ¨when you become....¨ but such futuristic words do not often get spoken in homes in which the diurnal needs overshadow any future. It is the success stories of men such as neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carter who came out of the ghetto that include a parent who, not only worked day and night, but who constantly projected for her child the future, encouraging him to believe in and pursue the future. Mr. Gorski does not seem to understand this difference, but, in fairness to him, he has probably not really lived with people of lower economic class, and unless one lives with people, one does not truly understand them, as Somerset Maugham so cogently once remarked. For instance, it is shocking to a middle class person to learn that one's husband does not want his wife to get her GED because then she may think herself better or leave him, or he simply wants his son to work in the mines as he did. Gorski writes that ¨schools do not value the involvement of poor families as much as they value the involvement of other families,¨ and this may be true. But, it is also true that the involvement of middle class or upper class families is truly different from the involvement of lower class families whether they live in the inner city or rural West Virginia or the South.

Mr. Gorski is an idealist, and education needs idealists to give children something beyond their grasps for which to reach. But, there are realities that he misses.