I have a scenario I present to people with more conservative political opinions to see if I can ever get them to say, “yes, that person deserves government assistance.” I begin by describing a teenager from a poof family who would like to go to university. The initial reaction is always, “that person should work really hard, get good grades in high school and earn money to pay for it.” Ok, fine. But the scary part is that there is no amount of “bad luck” I can create in the scenario (the kid’s parents are abusive, he has to work to pay for his mother’s medical bills, he went to a bad high school that didn’t prepare him) for a conservative to admit that someone’s ability to overcome their misfortunes is out of their hands. I don’t mean to imply all conservatives will never admit this but there is certainly a healthy number who won’t.
The next time I get into one of these conversations, I’m going to talk about this research:
[N]euroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life. So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.
There are now a number of neuroscience studies that show a strong relationship between the socioeconomic status (SES) of a child’s parents and the growth of a region of the brain called the hippocampus which is important in memory and learning. I wonder if impaired brain development due to the SES of the child’s parents (which the child has no control over) is enough to make a conservative admit that sometimes people’s fortunes aren’t entirely in their hands and that those of us fortunate enough to have benefited from great childhood should give back to those who weren’t so fortunate.
A few final words from the article:
The links between poverty, inequality, stress, and brain development are no longer ideal speculation. This is robust research, even if political powers want to either ignore it or favor strategies aimed at the middle class to get votes and support early schooling as a stop-gap band-aid against the larger reality.