Letter: Growing up ‘poor’ is not an excuse

Posted 8/29/19

In an op-ed piece in the Bristol Phoenix paper last week,  Joseph H. Crowley — a professional educator — suggests that poverty is the cause of educational underachievement. …

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Letter: Growing up ‘poor’ is not an excuse

Posted

In an op-ed piece in the Bristol Phoenix paper last week,  Joseph H. Crowley — a professional educator — suggests that poverty is the cause of educational underachievement. Marxist analysis such as his, claiming that economic inequality is the root of all social problems, reminds one of what Michael Crichton has termed the “wet streets cause rain” fallacy, because poverty is not the cause, it is the result of educational failure.

I know what I’m talking about. I grew up poor — the first in my family to graduate from high school. “Work” was my middle name, for my parents could provide for only the barest of necessities.

Throughout high school, I always had a job, sometimes more than one, to pay for the clothes I craved and my socializing. “Study” was my nickname; no vacations at the beach or, in fact, anywhere outside of home base. We had a TV, but I rarely watched it.

So, I did well in high school — well enough to get a scholarship to college; in fact, to Brown. Graduated in four years, always had a job, but could not drive a car for four years because I could not afford my home state’s required insurance.

Married my college sweetheart after graduation fifty-eight years ago. Our three daughters all went to first-rate colleges (Southern Cal, Stanford, Brown), all graduated in minimum time (one 3-years, the others 4-years); all held jobs while in college; all graduated debt-free.

In brief: we are living the American Dream. My family and I were not “maintained in poverty,” as Mr. Crowley asserts. The land of opportunity can be grasped if one chooses to work hard. But today, as then, that’s not enough.

As Charles Murray writes in his thoughtful book, “Coming Apart,” “The institutions surrounding marriage, vocation, community, and faith will be found to be the critical resources through which human beings lead satisfying lives.” Check out what has happened to those key cultural resources in America, and you’ll have a better sense of what causes what. And notice that “privilege”— the cause of the “learning gap” in Mr. Crowley’s article — doesn’t make the list.

Roger W. Barnett
Portsmouth

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.