Challenging Stereotypes

The Poor are Uneducated?

Shelby Karboski (Class of 2017)

Psychology Major

The poor are uneducated. That may be easy for someone to say that does not know the struggles of a poor person.  There are different versions of poverty. It does not always mean living on the streets in a cardboard box. Families are living in poverty by struggling to make ends meet by trying to keep their electric on, their hot water running, and keeping food on the table to feed their entire family. They may be working two or three minimum wage jobs while keeping a family together and intact with daily life goals, such as getting their children to school everyday.  There is no money for child care help to alleviate the stress of a parent working multiple jobs and sustaining the family’s needs. There are many factors that play into this downfall. As stated previously, there is a major gap between minimum wage and living wage. Those living in poverty are working minimum wage jobs and there is a growing lack of opportunities in our society for the impoverished, due to systemic inequality.

These inequalities of the poor are prevalent in today’s education system. It is a good idea to look into why children born into a poor family are less likely to be educated. The disparity between the upper and lower class in education begins as young as four years old. In some parts of the nation there are thousands of students who receive no preschool education. In urban neighborhoods consisting of low income families, children are not given the opportunity and begin kindergarten with no foundation of skills that are needed to succeed in the upcoming years. From this point on these children are behind with no resources to fill the gap. Some areas introduce children to the "high-stakes test", by third grade to determine who advances and who does not. All students are required to take it including those who have had the extra years of schooling with preschool and those who have not. Do you see the problem here? The lower class are already at a disadvantage so it is obvious who will be determined to advance. These disadvantages expand all the way up to college

Many students of the lower class do not consider going to college and if they do it is most likely a community college.  Family income is a main determinant of the type of advice given by high school guidance counselors to prospective college applicants. A three year study was sponsored by the National Commission of Cooperative Education, where counselors were asked to specify what type of advice they would give to fictional students based on race, family income, gender, and performance. Results indicated that counselors recommended a community college to lower and middle class students than wealthier ones with equivalent academic performance. Counselors were also more likely to recommend a four-year college to wealthier students than to lower class students, (Hoover, 2006).

Members of the lower class simply do not have the same opportunities for resources when it comes to education. They do not have the money for after school programs, tutors, SAT prep courses, and the like. How are they supposed to be at the same education level as those of the upper class? Not only are the lower class missing out on help from counselors but they are also getting less help financially to attend college. A study was conducted by the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education finding that scholarship aid increased 145 percent for families making $100,000 a year or more as opposed to only 22 percent for families making $44,000 or less a year, (Matthews, 2005). With the rise in merit based aid, there leaves little to no money for need based aid, resulting in students from lower class families to be discouraged to even apply to college.

Stereotyping holds many dangers, increasing the separation of the poor from the rest of society. The poor are treated as undeserving and lumped together into one category. Underclass individuals are fitting into one negative image. That image consists of living on the streets, homeless, drug addicts, uneducated and lazy, when in reality this is not the case for most. We need to be aware of the danger of these stereotypes and leading these individuals into self fulfilling prophecies. If a person is constantly portrayed in a negative way they may become tired of always trying to change everyone's outlook and give up on who they are really trying to become. They stop improving their lives, resulting in fulfillment of these stereotypes. The disparity between upper and lower class education continues to grow with a lack of recognition and improvement. Instead of stereotyping the poor as uneducated by their own choice it is important to look at the detrimental effects of these labels and put more effort into looking deeper at the why question.


Hoover, H. (2006). Race and family income of students influence guidance counselors’ advice, study finds. In Rothernberg, P. S. Ed. (2013). Race, class, and gender in the United States (9th edition). New York: Worth.

Matthews, J, (2005). Wealthy often win the race for merit-based college aid. In Rothernberg, P. S. Ed. (2013). Race, class, and gender in the United States (9th edition). New York: Worth.