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No Bootstraps April 9, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, Science.
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Students often tell me that kids born into poverty should pick themselves up by their bootstraps–anyone can achieve if they try hard enough. Well, not if there are no bootstraps. According to a new study:

Children raised in poverty suffer many ill effects: They often have health problems and tend to struggle in school, which can create a cycle of poverty across generations.

Now, research is providing what could be crucial clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area — working memory

“It’s critical for learning,” Evans said. “If you don’t have good working memory, you can’t do things like hold a phone number in your head or develop a vocabulary.”

For the new study, Evans and a colleague rated the level of stress each child experienced using a scale known as “allostatic load.” The score was based on the results of tests the children were given when they were ages 9 and 13 to measure their levels of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, as well as their blood pressure and body mass index.

When the researchers analyzed the relationships among how long the children lived in poverty, their allostatic load and their later working memory, they found a clear relationship: The longer they lived in poverty, the higher their allostatic load and the lower they tended to score on working-memory tests. Those who spent their entire childhood in poverty scored about 20 percent lower on working memory than those who were never poor, Evans said.

Before the recession 18% of kids were below the poverty line. I’m sure that figure gets worse everyday.

1 in 5 kids may not have the cognitive skills to compete in an information society.

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