The latest research studies from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child demonstrate how “toxic stress” can severely damage children’s minds.
Everyone needs to learn to deal with adversity, says Dr. Jack Shonkoff of the Harvard Center, and some stress is a good learning experience.
But the conditions associated with living in poverty harms children’s development.
“The same brain flexibility, called plasticity, that makes children open to learning in their early years also makes them particularly vulnerable to damage from the toxic stressors that often accompany poverty: high mobility and homelessness; hunger and food instability; parents who are in jail or absent; domestic violence; drug abuse; and other problems, according to Pat Levitt, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Southern California and the director of the Keck School of Medicine Center on the Developing Child in Los Angeles.
“Good experiences, like nurturing parents and rich early-child-care environments, help build and reinforce neural connections in areas such as language development and self-control, while adversity weakens those connections.”
This should be a required reading assignment for all those corporate-style reformers who insist that poverty is no excuse for low test scores, or that anyone who refers to poverty is making excuses for bad teachers.
Thus, when someone from TFA points to one school and says, “See, poverty doesn’t matter. High expectations are all it takes to overcome poverty,” tell them to read the work of Shonkoff and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. Some children survive the most extreme adversity, but far more do not. Why should so many children in the richest society in the world be subjected to extreme adversity and toxic stress? The claim that charter schools can redress the harm done by living in deep poverty is shameful.
Poverty really does have an adverse impact on children’s development.