The Myth of Poverty

At a teacher education summit in Austin last fall, Dr. Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, stated unequivocally that he needs teachers who understand issues around poverty.

How can we achieve such understanding? Paul Gorski (2008) argues that, for better or worse, many educators subscribe to “the ‘culture of poverty’ myth—the idea that poor people share more or less monolithic and predictable beliefs, values, and behaviors.” These stereotypical attitudes include the idea that poor people use drugs, don’t speak English well, and lack motivation to better themselves.

Gorski also lists a myth that I’ve heard from too many teachers:

MYTH: Poor parents are uninvolved in their children’s learning, largely because they do not value education.

The Reality: Low-income parents hold the same attitudes about education that wealthy parents do…they have less access to school involvement than their wealthier peers. They are more likely to work multiple jobs, to work evenings, to have jobs without paid leave, and to be unable to afford child care and public transportation. It might be said more accurately that schools that fail to take these considerations into account do not value the involvement of poor families as much as they value the involvement of other families.

If we assign a project that involves Web 2.0, students need class time or tutorial time (and access to computers in our classrooms or the school library) to complete it. A student whose parent is working the night shift may not be able to–or allowed to–go to a local library to do an assignment. The solution isn’t to cut out work that involves technology, since all students need this knowledge and these skills.

Creative Commons License from Susan NYC,


Gorski, P. (2008, April). The myth of the culture of poverty. Educational Leadership, 65(7), 32-36). Retrieved from


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