Too poor to be bright?

He has not yet started school, but he is already behind. Barely six, he is still somewhat unaware of the many injustices to be faced in the world –many of them, hurting him directly.

One of the first injustices, at school, is that he is not up to speed with the other first graders. And, you know, it is not because he’s not smart. He is. But learning is nearly impossible when you are hungry or sick, and vey difficult when the environment is preventing you from reaching your potential. However, the world will see this child as stupid or lazy. That is the second injustice. The third one is that he will believe them.

In the first years of life, children’s brains develop furiously. A shortage of nutrients –for the body, the mind and the soul- can very likely impact the learning outcomes for disadvantaged children. Failing then is not due to lack of intelligence – but for lack of resources. And it is, also, because the school that should embrace our little boy is actually expecting him to fail.

Solving poverty is not the prerogative of educators. There are things we just can’t change. But there are many, many others we can.

First, let’s start with your classroom. It should provide all children with an environment rich in stimuli and opportunity. And when we say rich, we mean exuberantly opulent. Lots of books, plenty of experiences to nourish and satisfy a child’s curiosity. Even Spartan premises can accommodate powerful learning environments. You don’t need fancy equipment or luxurious facilities. The way you talk, the words you speak, the warmth in your voice, your enthusiasm and creativity are key. Add as many exciting and nurturing happenings as you can. Make your classroom a window to the world.

Secondly, beware of your expectations. If you are convinced, even before they had a chance to prove you wrong, that these children will fail, most likely, they will. And then you will become part of the problem. Don’t pity your disadvantaged students. Believe in them, and teach them the power of hard work and determination. Share stories of successful people that overcame great hardship. Don’t assume you know what they are going through because, most likely, you don’t.

Also, get involved in local community actions to end poverty and hunger. Inspire your students, of all backgrounds, to be compassionate and caring. Teach them not to let their minds fall prey of prejudice. Every child bears the seed of genius within, and disadvantaged children are not too poor to be bright – they are too precious to be lost.


As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What Can Schools Do to Address Poverty? How do we instill inspiration in those who are economically and socially disadvantaged?