Interesting read: A cognitive scientist explains why family wealth affects learning

The past week I saw quite some discussions on the influence of cognition (even genes) on learning. This seems not something that difficult, but it becomes a heated debate when you add the element of wealth or SES (social-economic status). Is somebody poor because he has less cognition? Or vice versa? Of has cognition nothing to do with it.

This 2013 article by Daniel T. Willingham gives a good overview what cognitive science can tell us about this topic.

Maybe the most important quote to make sure that people do read the article:

We should keep in the forefront of our minds that the trends discussed here are exactly that—trends. There are harsh, inconsistent parents with stressed-out children in high-SES homes, and sensitive, consistent parents with well-prepared children in low-SES homes. Obviously, making assumptions about kids and their home lives based on parents’ income or occupation is nothing more than stereotyping. Still, it is well to keep in the back of your mind that these trends exist: a child from a poor family is more likely to be under chronic stress than a child from a middle- class family, for example.

The difficult balance is to recognize the challenges each individual child faces, but not use them as a reason to lower expectations for achievement or appropriate behavior. High expectations need not be an additional source of stress—students thrive when high expectations are coupled with high levels of support. Many low-SES kids are not getting the cognitive challenge they need from their homes and neighborhoods, but neither are they getting the support they need.

The last element is to me crucial, therefore I want to add this second quote:

To compensate, teachers should offer in the classroom what these children are missing at home. Much of this is what we’ve called human capital—academic knowledge and skills—which is the teacher’s bread and butter. It’s also well to remember that some of this knowledge, though important for long-term success, is not academic knowledge. It’s knowledge of how to interact with peers and adults, how to interact with large institutions like a school or a government agency, how to interact with authority figures, how to schedule one’s time, strategies to regulate one’s emotions, and so on. Some of this information is taught implicitly, by example, but much of it can be taught explicitly.

Do read the whole article here.

I want to add these recent posts who might interest you:

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