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Friday, February 10, 2017

Intelligence

I found the most interesting article on prodigies this month, thanks to the Brain Cafe on Facebook. Here's the link: http://nautil.us/blog/the-link-between-complicated-pregnancies-and-child-prodigies
 The Link Between Complicated Pregnancies and Child Prodigies.
In these days of fake news, I think Nautilus stands as one source of information we can count on. In this article, the author is well-qualified to describe research about savants. Savants are people who have an incredible talent or skill beyond what is normally expected. This article give three examples: a child who begins playing cello at three and has composed five symphonies by age five, a man who sculpts wild animals out of clay or wax, and a man who sees in fractals (1). Each of these individuals shows an ability beyond that of the average person in a very specialized skill. Scientists have now linked that ability to a different formation of the left side of the brain.
Research has found that such exceptional talent is  tied to three things: memory, recognition of patterns and sequences, and attention to detail. (2)
Theorists believe that the left side of the brain is disrupted, causing compensatory skills to develop. These skills allow the individual to access areas of the brain that lead to faster processing, without executive functioning (3). Thus, even accidents which damage the brain can lead to surprising results. In addition, since the left side of the brain forms later in pregnancy, it is more prone to damage in difficult pregnancies. Prenatal problems occur at a much higher rate in prodigies and individuals with autism. Incidents that shock the mother and cause distress in the fetus may change the development. Yet these individuals can show a fine sensitivity to others.

Having worked with exceptional learners during my career, I am still surprised. One of my students, aged 5, loved to draw trains. He would draw the cars and put the numbers and writing on them. His parents later told me they were actual trains he had seen. Another preschool student who seemed to be lost in sensory-stimulating activities suddenly reached over and pulled a single strand of blonde hair from my shoulder. In high school, my students with autism learned to read by memorizing words. Another learned to alter the program on his iPad to say, "I love Scooby-Doo." I sincerely hope we are on the cusp of a new stage of learning about the brain, so that all children will be happy, self-supporting and able to achieve their dreams.

(1) a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. Googe definition.
(2) Jawer, Michael, Nautilis, Jan. 11, 2017, Issue 44, Luckhttp://nautil.us/blog/the-link-between-complicated-pregnancies-and-child-prodigies
(3)Living With Geniuses,  https://lwallin.wordpress.com/


Friday, December 16, 2016

How Far We Have Strayed

In 1989, I moved to the suburbs to be near my parents. I worked as a substitute teacher with poverty level wages (yes, hard to believe) and at one point I was offered a job as a teaching assistant. When I said I could not support my family on the $8/hour salary I was offered, the principal asked how much I would need. I calculated the least I could get by with and it came to $15/hour. This was in 1989! Needless to say, the school district realized they could hire two people instead of me, so they did. I was fortunate to get a full-time sub position in January of that year and full-time employment the following fall. In the years between 2000 and 2006, poverty increased dramatically in the suburbs. (1) Like me, many of the poor had jobs, but lived paycheck to paycheck.

As a special education teacher during the 1990s, my students changed from mostly white, middle class families to diverse cultures (at one point I had seven different languages spoken in the homes of 20 students) with a much higher percentage of families in poverty. My last few years, over half of my students qualified for school breakfast and lunches. Often both parents would be working one or two jobs. Students came from homes where they might have shared a room with a grandparent or aunt, wore inexpensive clothing, and may not have had access to books, paper and pencils, let alone computers. 

How did we get so far off course in helping the poor? It helps to understand where we come from. The 1960s saw the first serious look at poverty in our country, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the counterculture anti-establishment values. It was the idealsim of Head Start and Sesame Street, the War on Poverty and the first demarcation of poverty. (2) Here is how the poverty threshold was computed:

The poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963-1964 by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration.  She published an analysis of the poverty population using these thresholds in a January 1965 Social Security Bulletin article.  Orshansky based her poverty thresholds on the economy food plan — the cheapest of four food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture.  The actual combinations of foods in the food plans, devised by Agriculture Department dietitians using complex procedures, constituted nutritionally adequate diets; the Agriculture Department described the economy food plan as being "designed for temporary or emergency use when funds are low."  (Orshansky also developed a second set of poverty thresholds based on the Agriculture Department's somewhat less stringent low-cost food plan, but relatively little use was ever made of these higher thresholds.)

Orshansky knew from the Department of Agriculture's 1955 Household Food Consumption Survey (the latest available such survey at the time) that families of three or more persons spent about one third of their after-tax money income on food in 1955.  Accordingly, she calculated poverty thresholds for families of three or more persons by taking the dollar costs of the economy food plan for families of those sizes and multiplying the costs by a factor of three — the "multiplier."  In effect, she took a hypothetical average family spending one third of its income on food, and assumed that it had to cut back on its expenditures sharply.  She assumed that expenditures for food and non-food would be cut back at the same rate.  When the food expenditures of the hypothetical family reached the cost of the economy food plan, she assumed that the amount the family would then be spending on non-food items would also be minimal but adequate.  (Her procedure did not assume specific dollar amounts for any budget category besides food.)  She derived poverty thresholds for two-person families by multiplying the dollar cost of the food plan for that family size by a somewhat higher multiplier (3.7) also derived from the 1955 survey.  She derived poverty thresholds for one-person units directly from the thresholds for two-person units, without using a multiplier.  The base year for the original thresholds was calendar year 1963.

Orshansky differentiated her thresholds not only by family size but also by farm/nonfarm status, by the sex of the family head, by the number of family members who were children, and (for one- and two-person units only) by aged/non-aged status.  The result was a detailed matrix of 124 poverty thresholds, although the figures generally cited were weighted average thresholds for each family size.

In her January 1965 article, Orshansky presented the poverty thresholds as a measure of income inadequacy, not of income adequacy — "if it is not possible to state unequivocally 'how much is enough,' it should be possible to assert with confidence how much, on an average, is too little."

While the poverty thresholds had been calculated on the basis of after-tax money income, they were applied to income data — the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey — that used a before-tax definition of money income; this was done because when the thresholds were being developed, the Current Population Survey was the only good source of nationally representative income data.  Orshansky was aware of the inconsistency involved, but there was no other alternative; she reasoned that the result would yield "a conservative underestimate" of poverty. (3)


Although government analysts expressed concern over updating these standards in 1965, action was delayed until 1981. A measure that decreased the number of homes below poverty was passed. Not until 1995 were recommendations made to revise the standards again. NRC's Committee on National Statistics’s Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance presented their findings in a report. (4) The results of this study?

Our major conclusion is that the current measure needs to be revised: it no longer provides an accurate picture of the differences in the extent of economic poverty among population groups or geographic areas of the country, nor an accurate picture of trends over time. The current measure has remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. Yet during that time, there have been marked changes in the nation's economy and society and in public policies that have affected families' economic well-being, which are not reflected in the measure. Improved data, methods, and research knowledge make it possible to improve the current poverty measure. (5)

The recommendations follow in the report (please access the link below for more information on it). 

In a book review by Richard L. Kaplan (6), he summarizes Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, written in 2002. One of the book’s great themes is “that concentration of economic power inevitably corrupts the political process. (7)” A fascinating glimpse into the role the laws have played into the accumulation of wealth by the upper class, while the middle and lower classes suffer. Sending two family members to work in order to maintain middle class status, former securities like pensions and health insurance are becoming a thing of the past. “Concentrated wealth is able to distort democratic processes for private enrichment…(8)"


Sadly, the trend that was noticed in the early 2000s has only increased. Our newest elected official is in the one percent and his appointees are as well. One can only hope for a revolution.




1 Krone, Emily, Poverty in the Suburbs, Daily Herald, April 16, 2008

2 Fischer, Jocelyn and Hayes, Jeffrey, Ph.D., A Clearer View of Poverty: How the Supplemental Poverty Measure Changes Our Perceptions of Who Is Living in Poverty. An Examination of Poverty by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, Age, and Marital Status. http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/a-clearer-view-of-poverty-how-the-supplemental-poverty-measure-changes-our-perceptions-of-who-is-living-in-poverty-1,

3 ibid, accessed at https://aspe.hhs.gov/history-poverty-thresholds.

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1995

5 Summary and Recommendations. https://www.nap.edu/read/4759/chapter/2.

6 Kaplan, Richard L., Economic Inequality and the Role of Law. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 6, May 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=499743 accessed 12/12/16.

7  ibid,  p.1987

 ibid, p. 1992.

Friday, December 9, 2016

“Society doesn't like poor people.”1


The South Side, by Natalie Moore is a refreshing and penetrating look at the south side of Chicago. I have lived near Chicago for 80% of my life. I once visited my older brother, John, when he was a full-time substitute teacher in a school that painted the windows because of sniper fire. I have gotten lost in a neighborhood where no one spoke my language and in a neighborhood where residents told me to get back on the Interstate because it was not safe there. My youth group volunteered at Jane Addams Hull House. My younger brother worked for Catholic Charities building low-income housing for seniors in twenty high-poverty neighborhoods. I have driven into the Loop when I was living below poverty level and wondered why there is so much money and homeless people in the same area. Someone’s not tithing their 10%.

Natalie Moore has opened my eyes. Although I knew about red-lining, the act of refusing to sell homes to blacks, I thought the Supreme Court case in 1940 (Hansberry v. Lee) and the Fair Housing Law passed in 1968 had done away with it. In fact, in the 1980s, several suburbs conducted a study by sending black and white couples to potential home sales. The real estate agents steered them to neighborhoods according to ethnicity. During the Great Migration from the South to the North, whites fled neighborhoods when blacks moved in. What does this mean in terms of poverty and wealth? Black neighborhoods tend to have deflated prices and accrue less equity over time. That’s only the beginning of the handicapping conditions if you are black in Chicago. 

The public housing was the answer to the poverty on the south side. Using federal money, the first Mayor Daley built the homes between the Lake and the Interstate. The housing was not all bad. There were communities of women who shared resources and helped watch each other’s kids. The gangs became problematic, however, and the second Daly tore them down. When residents were given vouchers to move into other areas, only 1,460 families out of 16,000 were able to find neighborhoods that would accept them.  If any of you have priced housing in the city lately, it is getting unaffordable for the middle class now. In a court case in 1969 (Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority), the judge ruled that CHA had deliberately engaged in discriminatory housing practices.

As a retired teacher, I am interested in all things education. Moore’s chapter on the school system made me boil. Resegregation has been taking place in all major cities and I intend to write an entire blogpost about that. One of the most sure-fire ways to improve the education of all children is to integrate the schools.A series of court cases supported parents’ rights to educate their children in better schools, federal officials would not insist on a plan for Chicago based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title VI. Daley and Dirksen threatened to withdraw support from all federal education. A bussing plan in 1966 also went nowhere because of whites picketing. In 1971, Illinois State Superintendent of Public Instruction mandated integration and it was ignored. In 1973, Walker prohibited busing as a way to integrate schools. In 1979, the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights cited a long history of contributing to segregation.4 A 1980 lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice went nowhere.
In 2009, Chicago was released from desegregation monitoring. Recent building of charter schools in all areas of the United States are, in this author’s opinion, just an effort to circumvent unions and resegregate school systems.

Moore’s book continues with chapters on food deserts in low-income areas, lack of investment in businesses, the portrayal of violence as the norm, the benefits of Mayor Harold Washington, and the things we love about Chicago, and I don’t want you to neglect them. I highly recommend her book and hope you will read it. I am focusing on poverty this year, so those chapters are less pertinent.



p. 82, Moore
p. 81, Moore
School Integration and Occupational Achievement of Negroes
Robert L. Crain
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 75, No. 4, Part 2: Status and Achievement in the U.S.: 1969 (Jan., 1970), pp. 593-606
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2775904
Page Count: 14

4 Moore, p. 120

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Two Excellent Resources for More Information on Poverty

I attend church most Sundays, so I wasn't aware that WNYC has a series on poverty. I listened today and was amazed. They investigated some of the myths surrounding poverty. Here is their web site if you'd like to catch up with the series. I'll be binge listening today as I recover from a sleep study last night. For my deaf friends, there is a manuscript under each video.

There is also an article on Mother Jones called, "What If Everything You Knew About Poverty Was Wrong?" I recommend both of these. They appear to be based on actual experiences with neighborhoods and people in poverty.