In the predictable media storm that passes for rational discourse, one side will argue that it's about genes or laziness or lack of values, and has little to do with environment, and the other will counter that the children have been damaged by preventable practices imposed by a culture largely indifferent to the underclass.Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult. We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response.
A third contingent will nod their heads sagely, note that correlation does not mean causation, then fade away with smirks on their faces, a bit too pleased with their ability to avoid any discussion with substance. Dante has a special place for them.
Monday morning thousands of classrooms will be filled with children who lack something critical inside their craniums, just as they did last week, and just as they will next.
Jokes will be made in faculty lounges--"I knew they were brain damaged"--and the cynicism will make a tough job even tougher.
Still, this is big news.
Neuroscientists have found through EEG readings that children from lower economic classes have changes in their prefrontal cortex. Bad changes. This is the part of the brain that helps plan things, the control center that coordinates what you think with what you do; this is where the brain says "Whoa, cowboy, think twice before you throw a chair at the teacher." This is where you pick up on social cues.
In short, we now have organic findings for what teachers have known ever since there was a wrong side of the tracks. Kids from wealthier zip codes have, on average, a better toolbag than those from less glamorous neighborhoods.
(The logo looks like the wall of a bloody crime scene, a child's last clutches as she collapsed against a wall. Maybe my frontal lobe needs polishing, too.)
Does this mean anything at the individual student level? No.
Does this mean we are to expect less from any particular child? No.
Does this mean a school district in 90002 (Watts) may have more difficulty than 90210 (Beverly Hills) jumping over the NCLB hurdle? Emphatically yes.
Educating children did not get any easier knowing this. But educating a few adults in Washington just might, provided, of course, that their prefrontal lobes work.