The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 53

Middle class families need to read this book. The authors of this study specifically targeted neighborhoods on extreme ends of the wealth continuum, completely ignoring those populations between them. This choice led to a polarization of results, which the authors recognize at the close of the book and purport to be a deliberate choice in order to mobilize people in the fight for equality in education. For me, this approach was a bit off-putting, but the authors were transparent about their motives and objective abouttheir results. Still,this book is relevant for the middle class so that they might avoid the pitfalls of extreme poverty mentioned above and replicate the habits of the affluent in order to access information capital.

Families from all backgrounds should read this book to understand the value of reading. Neuman and Celano cite research by Stanovich, West, and Harrison that found reading widely and deeply outweighs general ability when acquiring knowledge because reading allows people to create schema or a framework for new information. These schemas reduce information-processing demands and free up mental energy to focus on learning the new content. Thus, knowledge acquisition begets knowledge acquisition.

Consider: a third grade class reads a challenging article about baseball and later recounts the information. As one might expect, students who know the basic rules of baseball will retain more information about the article, while students who know nothing about baseball might be baffled and give up or create their own version of the sport based on the text. This illustrates the importance of information capital – students who know more, can learn more, while students who know less, will struggle to categorize and learn new information. This example given by the authors is the first time I have understood the value of schema. Perhaps by educating families and people in the community, they can also begin to understand these core ideas about academic success.

Community leaders, public servants, and those who work with children need to read this book, especially chapter 7, as it documents the summer programs offered in each neighborhood. “Deadness,” “weariness,” and “given up” are all ways the authors describe the leaders of most of these programs in the Badlands. I’ve seen this in actual classrooms, and it’s no wonder kids aren’t motivated to learn. On the other hand, they detail one program in the Badlands in which five-year-olds are engaged in a science lesson about states of matter and types of elements because they were both interested and challenged, with the support of an interesting and interested mentor. Expertise and motivation intertwine into an ongoing cycle, like the ropes in double-dutch, if only a student or adult begins the process.

For this and other reasons, teachers and curriculum writers need to read this book. In the postscript, the authors argue that meaningful learning renders all other factors irrelevant; if students are engaged in a rigorous, academic environment with effective and invested teachers, they will learn. Unfortunately, content-rich curriculum has been largely neglected in favor of the easier alternative – teaching to tests or standards. In my student teaching, I have seen teachers sit down with outlines of standardized test materials during planning meetings. Instead, I am intrigued by the idea of a content-based curriculum. In particular, Neuman and Celano propose a curriculum such as Core Knowledge that aligns horizontally within a grade and vertically, from grade to grade. From a student’s perspective, this is revolutionary and eliminates the boredom that comes from cookie cutter lessons and activities. As a teacher, it would be exciting and motivating to create inquiry- and project-based lessons to teach skills within the context of content.

Teachers should also be aware of the phenomenon of “oppositional identities,” named by John Ogbu, which explains why students in poverty often lash out against the education system when expectations are low and failure is likely. This is the easiest advice to give and the hardest to take. Hearing adults and students alike devaluing education is difficult to ignore, but is a product of culture and circumstances. Again, fundamental attribution error is all too tempting. As Neuman and Celano point out, poverty does not equal low ability, and both of these issues can be countered by holding high expectations for students and supporting them as they rise to the challenge of exceeding these expectations.

Finally, policymakers need to read this book. Neuman and Celano propose that gentrification has strengthened the Matthew Effect (the phenomenon where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”), and that equity of resources, not equality, is one positive step policymakers can take. Specifically, they recommend an increase in human resources in high poverty areas: adult mentors in public spaces, technology specialists in schools and libraries, and teachers and after-school supervisors who are both caring and demanding. The authors believe that the best way to close the knowledge gap is adult support and rigorous, content-rich curriculum throughout a student’s school experience, and based on their data and arguments summarized here, I have to agree.


Neuman, S., & Celano, D. (2012). Giving our children a fighting chance: Poverty, literacy, and the development of information capital. New York: Teachers College Press.

Laura Swon teaches in Columbia, Missouri, with Jumpstart -- an AmeriCorps language and literacy program that serves preschools in low-income areas. After graduating from the University of Missouri, she plans to teach preschool in an urban area


They do still look different but not sure why. Do have something to try- will work on this afternoon after tutoring. Also need to retrive some lost text from when I changed font size.

Classroom Close-up

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