Is Poverty Killing our Kids?

Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker /

Child sitting alone, Suzanne Tucker /

Despite all the modern conveniences of the 21st century, our information-saturated culture, an exhaustive supply of self-help books, and giant advances in medical technology, doesn’t it seem like our society is more stressed, our anxiety higher, and more of our kids prescribed behavior modification drugs?

What if one of the reasons for our strung-out culture was the social, emotional, mental, and physiological outworking of the effects of poverty?

In the latest release of the Shriver Report, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder of the California Pacific Medical Center’s Bayview Child Health Center, has found through medical research and experiences of her patients that the stress of poverty can be manifested in alarming behaviors and predispositions.

Want to Win the War on Poverty? For the Sake of the Most Vulnerable, Let's Work Together

Created by Brandon Hook/Sojourners. Photos: Nolte Lourens/Shutterstock and bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

The only way to win the “war on poverty” is for liberals and conservatives to make peace — for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world’s richest nation.

For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.

War on Poverty Anniversary Recalls Religion's Role in Appalachia

RNS photo by Don Rutledge

A mountain home with teenagers involved in work at the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. RNS photo by Don Rutledge

HOT SPRINGS, N.C. — The 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty, which falls today, reminds us how intractable that effort can be, despite the hope and determined idealism when the legislation was signed.

Appalachia was one of the targets for the newly established Office of Economic Opportunity, utilizing programs such as Head Start and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). The anniversary also recalls how religion has motivated, shaped and sustained this effort, in many ways prefiguring the campaign, in both its successes and failures.

For more than two centuries, these Southern mountains have been a magnet for missionaries, both religious and secular, all determined to wipe out poverty, hunger, and ignorance — whether the region’s benighted folk wanted them to or not. Their too-common failing, local people say, is that the erstwhile do-gooders have not respected the strong beliefs and culture that already existed.

With the best intentions, altruists and uninvited agents of uplift have come with their social gospel of “fixing” local people. That is to wean them from violence and the debilitating use of alcohol, while bringing their brand of faith, along with education, nutrition, and improved living standards. Invariably well-meaning, these efforts have typically ended in disappointment and failure in places such as Madison County, N.C.

Views on Evolution Driven by Religion More Than Education

Processes of Human Evolution, by Religion graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

As evolution remains a contentious issue for many public schools, a new survey suggests that views on the question are driven by Americans’ religious affiliation more than their level of education.

Overall, six in 10 Americans say that humans have evolved over time, while one-third reject the idea of human evolution, according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center. The one-third of Americans who reject human evolution has remained mostly unchanged since a 2009 Pew survey.

About one in four American adults say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

While education matters, the new analysis suggests that religion appears to have more influence than level of education on evolution. The 21-point difference between college graduates and high school graduates who believe in evolution, for example, is less stark than the 49-point difference between mainline Protestants and evangelicals.

'American Promise' Film Documents Two Black Families Navigating Education in America

American Promise spans 13 years as Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, middle-class African-American parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., turn their cameras on their son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, who make their way through one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. Chronicling the boys’ divergent paths from kindergarten through high school graduation at Manhattan’s Dalton School, the documentary presents complicated truths about America’s struggle to come of age on issues of race, class, and opportunity. American Promise is aOfficial Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Letters from a School Near MLK Street

Robert Adrian Hillman /

Illustration of schoolchildren crossing the road, Robert Adrian Hillman /

In my lifetime I’ve driven on three roadways named after Martin Luther King, Jr. One was a street, another a boulevard, and the third a highway. And whether by cosmic irony or human design, each of these roadways passes through communities of significant poverty and color, namely black. Around these roadways are boarded up storefronts, crack and heroin dens (think The Wire), condemned row houses, and inevitably, always – public schools.

From 2001 to 2006 I left the safety of the pulpit to teach in the schools of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., pursuing a call to care for the proverbial least of these (it’s always pained me to think how I might feel to be called this, as in hey, you least of these, can I help you with anything? – but that’s a reflection for another time). I left also the safety of a suburban megachurch, where all you needed to do to understand the socioeconomic standing of its members was to walk through the parking lot, and the familiar cultural context of my Korean-American upbringing.

This article, however, is not about me. It’s about beautiful, creative, energetic, and intelligent children — kids who, as the least of these, are too often treated as such. There is no limit to blame: from the mother who comes to school drunk, a prostitute, publically shaming her son (who loves her nonetheless and gets beaten by the other boys defending her honor); to the worn-out teacher who drags a “difficult” child into the bathroom, bruising her arms and threatening her with verbal vitriol and rage; to the administration that promotes student after student, knowing they are years behind, but too old to remain; to the system that maintains, protects, and worships a biblical truism, that for to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away (Mt.25:29).

Education as an Exercise in Dominion

Two schoolchildren wait for the bus, Nolte Lourens /

Two schoolchildren wait for the bus, Nolte Lourens /

I remember the first time I ever got straight A’s. It was also the last time.

I was in Mrs. Becker’s 4th grade class at John Story Jenks School in Philadelphia. I was always good at reading, I LOVED science projects, and art class was fun — but math? Ugh. Math was my nemesis. In 4thgrade the times tables felt as insurmountable as that dang rope everybody else could whiz up and down in gym class. I just couldn’t figure it out. In fact, to this day, I haven’t figured the rope.

So, my father became my times tables drill sergeant and resorted to straight memorization tactics, making me write each one 10 times. Then he sat across from me at the dining room table and drilled me on the times tables until I said them in my sleep. It was brutal … and oddly, one of the fondest memories of my elementary school years. Not only did I master multiplication, but I also learned something much more important. When my report card came back that quarter with straight A’s, I learned that I could learn!

The Church's Call in Educating Their Community's Children

Community illustration, Sweet Lana /

Community illustration, Sweet Lana /

I love October. As a teacher, it was that time of year where rhythms were becoming established and the seeds of learning were beginning to sprout. In ministry, it is the time where I find myself riding the waves of my student’s school schedules in an effort to connect and converse. In either case, education, shapes not on the schedule of my life but the purpose.

As I breathe in the crisp autumn breeze, it reminds me to consider the larger partnership between the educators and the church. When we, as ministers and church leaders, consider what role education plays in the life of the church, we have to consider the active part of the church in the education of not only the church community, but its larger context.

Education, in the public context, is a constant topic of political struggle and strife. Education, in the ecclesial context, in its best is in-depth Bible study and at its worst is education by osmosis and observation. What is the call or consideration of the church to the topic of education? What role does the church have in the education of the community?