Saturday, December 6, 2008

I know that Dana Garrett will make me regret posting this...

... but in the interest of intellectual integrity I could not read it and not talk about it.

Science Daily reports that the brains of the children of poor socio-economic status look like the brains of stroke victims:

University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.

In a study recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

Brain function was measured by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG) – basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain – like that used to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain tumors.

"Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult," said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "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."...

"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

"It's not a life sentence," Knight emphasized. "We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices."


You should read the entire article.

Here's the deal: if this research holds up, then it is fairly obvious that something needs to be done about it.

The question is what.

I know the temptation to suggest immediately that more government intervention programs need to be set up, and I understand the impulse.

But the reality is that the early reports suggest that it is within families that changes need to be made, particularly in this age of the destruction of the nuclear and extended family--a significant part in which has been played by government programs.

What I'd like to see, but am afraid will not occur in the inevitable demagoging of this issue, is that we'll actually get a look at what the best possible research says can and should be done, as effectively and quickly as possible. And then we'll use that to frame the public debate.

What I wonder is whether that can or will actually happen.

5 comments:

Zafo Jones said...

The question is not whether government intervention is needed, the question is where that government intervention comes from. States need to have a larger responsibility to deal with the socioeconomic issues under their jurisdiction, spending money in order to fulfill the constitutional principles of equity. I'm afraid that we're too far gone from that ideal to really have that happen, though. The question that should be asked is what is the fundamental educational standard under which we need to be judged nationally and what resources we need to expend to get there. To say parental responsibility is vital ignores the fundamental problems of out-of-date textbooks and crumbling facilities. Set some minimum standards about facilities and resources, fund them, and then let the states figure out the rest. Anything less would be an insult to the idea of a public sector.

Delaware Watch said...

""This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

"from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status..."

If they doesn't say that the problem is (once more) low & stagnate wages and job availability, I don't know what does. To hell w/ minimum wage legislation. We need living wage legislation as well as adoption of the Employee Free Choice Act. There has never been a better anti-poverty program than unions.

pandora said...

The first thought that comes to my mind when I think of the lower socio-economic people I know is living conditions and nutrition. Mac and cheese is much more affordable than fresh fruit and veggies. Moving often is also very disruptive to a child's life and sense of stability.

Funny, but when I've had a problem with my furnace, the first question my heating/oil company asks is... Are there children in the house? When I answer yes, I'm immediately labeled as a priority call. There's a solution in that experience. Maybe that question should be asked more often. Maybe we should actually take children into account rather than playing the "children are our future" lip service game.

tom said...

Please correct me if i'm wrong, but Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience does not appear to be a peer-reviewed journal, and therefore the studies they publish can not really be taken seriously w/o additional supporting evidence.

tom said...

Delaware Watch said "There has never been a better anti-poverty program than unions."

Tell that to companies like ACME that have difficulty hiring new employees because their unions do nothing for new hires except take a hefty chunk of their already pitiful paychecks while existing union members do not care because most of their union benefits are grandfathered from whatever contract they joined under.