Since the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s much-discussed 1965 report
on the “Negro family,” the “culture of poverty”—the idea that the poor
adapt to poverty in ways that ultimately reinforce and perpetuate their
condition—has been a taboo topic in polite (er, politically correct)
society. Lately, though, sociologists have again begun to investigate
this phenomenon, seeking a clearer understanding of why poor families
tend to stay that way from generation to generation. What this means
for education is particularly interesting. New findings indicate that
income alone does not determine a student’s ability to succeed. Great
schools and programs change lives and life prospects, while helping to
create support networks for children and parents alike. (See David
Whitman’s excellent book, Sweating the Small Stuff, and Casey Carter’s brand-new one, On Purpose.)
It is not the role of schools to cure every social ill. But, for better
(and sometimes for worse), they affect cultures as well as individuals.
“Culture of Poverty Makes a Comeback,” by Patricia Cohen, New York Times, October 17, 2010.