Poor People and Education

One of the most pernicious stereotypes about poor people is that they are dumb. They may be less formally educated, or, like me, they may have formal education. But let me tell you a story about how I got my education.

When I was growing up, the thing I wanted most was to be educated. I dreamed of going to college. I didn’t, of course, think that college was for poor people. I knew I was poor, and I didn’t think there was a way for me to go to college. But I wanted to learn. When I was about 13, I asked for the complete works of Shakespeare for Christmas. My mother delivered. I got the complete works of Shakespeare. I rented plays from the local library, and watched while reading along. I taught myself Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and others. I was self-taught, for the most part.

As I got older, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college. I applied first to a community college, then to a private university. I graduated, and went on to graduate school. As I was writing my Master’s thesis, I had my first psychotic break. But I had that break after I was able to get well educated, formally and informally.

The poor people I come across are not stupid. They sometimes have less formal education, but they have life knowledge. They know about how systems work. They have taught me a lot about how to navigate the disability system, how to navigate the mental health system, and more. I have discussed with other poor people how to manage money. One of my good friends lives several hours away from me, so instead of visiting, which costs a lot for either of us, we use Skype. We are fortunate to have internet access, but it comes at a price. When we go the tiniest bit over budget, we have to stay in and not do anything in order to save and rebound. The majority of my friends, in fact, are good with money. They just don’t have much of it.

My friends are almost all formally educated, too. Most of us went to college to learn. So, most of my friends are lower income and educated.

Even now that I’m not in school, I still keep up with the news, conduct scholarly research, and whatnot. My friends read a lot, and think a lot. We have intellectual conversations. So, no, I’d say there are plenty of smart poor people.