Filed Under:  Letter to the Editor, Opinion

Education: The key to breaking the cycle of poverty

16th June 2014   ·   0 Comments

A recent survey by the National Adult Literacy Council reported that three-fourths of all welfare recipients perform at the lowest levels of literacy. It is important to understand that poverty is a problem of class, not race.

If an adult cannot fill out a job application, read to a child, complete an application for a bank account, or earn enough money to pay their bills, they are not likely to break the cycle of poverty.

Unfortunately, adults who do not have those critical skills will probably fail to provide their children with the educational opportunities necessary to succeed. Today’s competitive work environment requires a level of education that goes beyond that which elementary and high school provide.

To solve the overwhelming problems which affect the poor living in America, one must look at the big picture. From a wide-angle perspective, virtually everyone in our community will be negatively affected by so-called welfare reform.

The problems of the poor are so complex that blame is passed around freely and solutions are fractured into pieces too small to have much impact. Some maintain that teachers and administrators are justified in their belief that it is extremely difficult to improve the lives of the poorest children because of what happens to them outside the school and events that took place before these youngsters entered kindergarten.

A core problem that welfare reform does not address is the lack of access to quality educational tools and skills development. Teachers and parents must teach children the basics. Children must be taught to read, write, speak, and listen, so that they will be equipped to break the cycle of poverty that their families have been stuck in. When children are not properly educated, they risk growing up to become adults who cannot provide for themselves or their families.

There are young mothers and fathers whose literacy skills must be improved to prevent their children from reliving their own cycle of low skills and low wages. There are teenage mothers who are ill prepared to face a demanding workforce. There are teenagers at risk of dropping out of school. Finally, there are the unborn, who should be able to count on entering families that are prepared to effectively address their futures.

How do we break the cycle of poverty? Education is key to success in this country.

Early Childhood Education. Literacy preparation and enrichment must be started at the earliest possible moment. Reading to children at an early age stimulates language development. Young parents need support networks to help them develop parenting skills. Obtaining such skills will enable their children to have a healthier start in life. As parents, we must also dedicate ourselves to be supportive of our children and their teachers throughout their educational careers.

Career Education and Planning. For youngsters who are uncertain about future goals, parents, teachers, and counselors should provide positive direction. A United Negro College Fund study reported that eighth-graders who planned to attend college were 95 percent more likely to graduate from high school than students who were undecided.

Job Preparation. This means obtaining an education for a specific job. Research has shown that young people learn skills best when education is embedded in job preparation.

Adult Education. The educational level of parents is an important influence on the educational attainment of children. Therefore increasing the number of community adult literacy programs is essential. We must also work to make sure that parents can afford to attend our community colleges.

These principles require a new commitment by schools to educate families as well as children. It also demands educators adapt research-based strategies on the specific needs of those caught in the cycle of poverty. It also calls for a strong partnership between parents, teachers, and students.

Welfare reform is not going to eliminate poverty. We will break the cycle of poverty when we reach deep inside ourselves, the poor and the privileged, and make a covenant with our children to build a sound educational foundation for their success.

– Dr. Delarious O. Stewart
Child Development and Family Studies
SUNO

This article originally published in the June 16, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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