The Culture of Poverty- Fact or Fiction

             Back in 1961, Oscar Lewis came up with the concept of the Culture of Poverty. In Lewis’s theory, poor people in themselves have a culture with shared beliefs, values, and attitudes. He believed that these beliefs and values were consistent amongst America’s poor as well as the world’s poverty stricken individuals. He argued that this culture of poverty could be easily observed by the untrained eye. Lewis believed that it is these beliefs and values that keep the poor in the grips of poverty. This concept of culture of poverty has been instilled in Americans for many decades and people have come to believe in the notion of that all poverty stricken people are the same. However, many researchers from today have devalued the concept of a culture of poverty and have called it right out a myth (Gorski, 2008&2007).

            One scholar who has made numerous articles devaluing the culture of poverty is Paul Gorski. According to Gorski (2008), “There is no such thing as a culture of poverty. Differences in values and behaviors among poor people are just as great as those between poor and wealthy people” (p. 33). I could not agree anymore. I have many friends, who like myself, are poor and we have many diverse and different values and beliefs when it comes to certain issues, especially education and work. Gorski believes that the ideas associated with the culture of poverty are just stereotypes made about poor people. In Gorski’s article “The Myth of the Culture of Poverty,” Gorski debunks four major points made by the culture of poverty that Gorski considers to be myths. The myths are as follows: 1.) Poor people are unmotivated and have weak work ethics. 2.) Poor parents are uninvolved in their children’s learning, largely because they do not value education. 3.) Poor people are linguistically deficient. 4.) Poor people tend to abuse drugs and alcohol (Gorski, 2008&2007).

            Concerning the myth of poor people being unmotivated and having weak work ethics, Gorski (2008) makes the following comment, “poor working adults spend more hours working each week than their wealthier counterparts” (p. 33). This is due to the fact that many poor people have to work two to four jobs year round just to try to make ends meet. They do not get paid as well as their richer counterparts and have to make up for it in any way they can. Before I started going back to school, I was working two jobs to get by, and still I was barely making it. Right after college I worked three jobs to assist my mother with the bills as well as be able to pay for my own. Based on this information, I think it is incorrect to call poor individuals lazy, unmotivated, and incapable of good work ethics. Poor people have to work twice as hard as upper classmen to make ends meet, provide for their families, and keep debtors off their backs. 

            The myth that poor parents are uninvolved in their children’s learning and do not value education is a huge belief amongst Americans and educators. Educators come to this assumption because many low-income parents do not attend school functions or conferences. Gorski (2008) argues that this have nothing to do with devaluing education but due to the fact that “they have less access to school involvement than wealthier peers. They are more likely to work multiple jobs, to work evenings, to have jobs without paid leave, and to be unable to afford child care and public transportation” (p. 33). Gorski makes valid points. Parents who have low-incomes are going to have less resources and less time to commit to their children’s schools. They might not have a way to get to the school, they might be working during school events, unable to get off for these events, and have no one to look after the rest of their children during these events and conferences. Without solutions to these problems, parents have little means to make appearances at their children’s schools.

                Regarding the myth that poor people are linguistically deficient is one myth that Gorski sheds little reality upon. I wish he would have explained that myth a bit more and explain why it is so. All he really covers is that varieties of English like Black English Vernacular, “are no less sophisticated than so-called ‘standard English’” (Gorski, 2008, p. 34). With the myth that poor people tend to abuse drugs and alcohol more so than the other classes, Gorski believes the opposite is true. Based off other research that he did he found that drug use is immensely higher in the upper class than among the poor (Gorski, 2008).

            It is believed that this culture of poverty is the reason for why students from low-income families are treated unequally compared to the upper and upper-working class students. It leads educators to see poor students and parents as deficient even if we may want all their students to succeed and believe that all of them are capable of succeeding. Gorski (2008) states that because of this deficit theory teachers are “defining students by their weaknesses rather than their strengths” and “we (Americans) are much less likely to support authentic antipoverty policy and programs” (p. 34). It is this theory that justifies the privileges and advantages that students from the upper class receive and the disadvantages that the students from the poor and working-class receive. As Gorski (2008) argues, “we ignore the ways in which our society cheats them (poor students) out of opportunities that their wealthier peers take for granted” (p. 34-35).