Poverty in Society Essay

Pages: 5 (1626 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Teaching

Culture of Poverty

What cultural dynamics contribute to or even reinforce poverty in the American Society? This paper shows through the scholarly literature that indeed poverty results far more from a cultural perspective than due to individual habits or idiosyncrasy.

Origin of the Concept of "Culture of Poverty"

Anthropologist Oscar Lewis first used the phrase "culture of poverty"; he used it in an article he published in 1959 in Mexico about rural migrants that were arriving in Mexico City (Rosemblatt, 2009, p. 617). One important result from Lewis' research and writing is that scholars began using "culture" as a way to describe and define poverty, rather than link poverty to racial science. The training Lewis had received at Columbia University -- and his "extensive" interaction with intellectuals in Mexico caused him to lean towards the idea that "race was irrelevant in explaining social phenomena" such as poverty (Rosemblatt, 607).

Lewis disliked the "inadequate generalizations" about culture and personality approaches to anthropological research because they had "plagued racial thinkers" that were in a constant search for "racial types" (Rosemblatt, 609). Instead of digging into racial issues, Lewis, who was bilingual, collaborated with Mexican scholars that were researching the link between cultural and racial differences to "economic development, class, and material culture" (Rosemblatt, 610).

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Author Rosemblatt explains that within months of Lewis' original article, the idea that the poor had "a distinct culture became part of a passionate, decade-long, worldwide debate about poverty… what caused poverty and how to remedy it…"

The Literature -- Culture of Poverty -- Examples

Essay on Poverty in Society Assignment

Meanwhile, Kristen Cuthrell, Joy Stapleton, and Carolyn Ledford examine the culture of poverty in the United States in their peer-reviewed article in the journal Preventing School Failure. The authors point out that according to the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) -- their statistics from the year 2006 -- about 1.3 million children have "fallen into poverty" since 2000 (Cuthrell, et al., 2010, p. 104). As of 2010, there were approximately 13 million children in America that were living in poverty, the authors explain. That breaks down into the fact that a child in America has a 9% chance of being raised in a poverty household; also that means that "one in six children" in America is poor, and one in three African-American children are poor.

The number of children worldwide that are living in poverty is much greater than those in the U.S.; an estimated 5.6 million children struggle in homes that are steeped in poverty around the planet, which reflects a 22% increase since the year 2000 (Cuthrell, 104). The authors examine strategies that can be effective in helping educate students and their families "from the culture of poverty"; they identify "situational poverty" as a situation caused by illness for example, or loss of a job, and in general, situational poverty is not permanent. It may have been brought on by a sudden event that was not anticipated, but hit the family hard, and their challenge then is to climb up out of the that situation as quickly as they can.

But "generational poverty" is defined as "…an ongoing cycle of poverty in which two or more generations of families experience limited resources"; and generational poverty has "its own culture," the authors explain, and within that culture are "hidden rules and belief systems" (Cuthrell, 105). The third aspect of poverty mentioned by the authors is "absolute poverty" which is a kind of poverty where the families and individuals are scrambling to find enough food to put on the table, and other "bare essentials" are sought on a continual basis (Cuthrell, 105).

The culture of poverty, when looking at it from the perspective of children that will be in school, makes it very tough on students. When the family is stuck within culture of poverty that means the family has more issues to contend with than just financial shortages. Poverty, defined by Payne (and referenced by Cuthrell on page 105), is the "extent to which an individual does without resources." Payne mentions eight resources "whose presence or absence determines the effect of poverty":

The eight resources poor people are short on include: "financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships and role models, and knowledge of hidden rules" (Cuthrell, 105). That said, the authors note that notwithstanding a shortage of finances, a strong person can lessen the burden of being poor if he or she has "…strong emotional, spiritual, and physical support" (105). Children and adults living in the culture of poverty can and do work their way out of being poor if they have the "ability to form warm relationships," if they have a "caregiver who values education," if they are blessed with "an internal locus of control," and if they are in a position to participate in "recreational and service-oriented activities" (Cuthrell, 105).

However there is no getting around the fact that a child living in the culture of poverty might show up for school with a learning disability, with developmental delays, and it is also true that children from poverty families may have more "emotional and behavior problems" than children from middle class and upper class families. Typically a child from the culture of poverty may experience a low sense of self-esteem, may not be popular, and may be conflicted in his or her peer relationships, the authors continue on page 105. On page 106, Cuthrell and colleagues present three strategies for schools and teachers when their students (or many of their students) hail from the culture of poverty.

One, teachers have to be put in place who truly believe in their students, and are committed to taking responsibility for working with them, motivating them, understanding their socioeconomic issues and having "high expectations for their students" (Cuthrell, 106). It won't be acceptable to have a teacher who says "My student's can't…" the authors report. Secondly, the authors suggest that teachers must be fully focused on academic achievement, and the goals should be "small" and "achievable" (Cuthrell, 106).

The third strategy for teachers with children from the culture of poverty is to give "assessment a prominent role" in all the activities surrounding the daily routine of the students; faculty members are asked to review students' progress "…daily, weekly, and yearly," so that teachers can become coaches. Students are encouraged to "write to think" and there must be collaboration among teachers and principals, and administrators as well as teachers should be involved in correcting work; everyone must be "held accountable for student learning," and that includes music teachers, bus drivers, librarians and physical education teachers (Cuthrell, 106).

Brigid Harrison, Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University, believes that the "culture of poverty" exists because "Deprivation in one generation leads, through cultural impoverishment, indifference, apathy, or misunderstanding of their children's educational needs, to deprivation in the next generation" (Harrison, 2010, p. 311). Due to the continuing lack of resources, and the poor educational underpinnings, many young men in the culture of poverty cannot competently sustain their own responsibilities (marriage, for example), and hence they are known to "father children out of wedlock with multiple women" (Harrison, 311). Young women, raised in the culture of poverty, succumb to a life that is noted for "instability, poverty, and hopelessness" and children that were born into a culture of poverty are part of a "culture of alienation, apathy, and lack of motivation" as well as a lack of educational experiences (Harrison, 311).

Sandra Stein is the Academic Dean of New York City's Leadership Academy, a program for "aspiring, new and veteran principals" in the New York public school system. Stein's book (The Culture of Education Policy) describes part of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" -- Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- as the largest federal compensatory education policy. It… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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