Schools and Culture: Progress in Infant Mortality Begs a Question or Two

Summary: Progress in infant mortality addresses the same root causes as the struggles of low income students in our schools.

The academic struggles of low income students do not originate in poor schools, though are encumbered by them, but in families ill equipped to boost the school readiness that educated and middle class families provide in the normal course of their parenting. From familiarity with the alphabet to proper nutrition to a sense of personal security, in different measures middle class and above kids arrive in school with skill sets that render them more ready than lower class counterparts to absorb the culture and teaching of school as we have known it.

In a sense these deficits are no one’s fault, except perhaps the broader culture for failure first to recognize the gaps as shortcomings of the society, and then for failure to shoulder responsibility and to generate remedy.

Though the logic can seem hopelessly quixotic, the hunt for solution to the failures of too many schools sinks more deeply than the insufficiencies of particular schools, to include the beginnings of their students’ lives.

Moreover, recent news from the battle against high infant mortality rates reinforces the same inexorable logic.

News always seems to break down into good news and bad news. So it goes with the report that infant mortality rates in the US have declined twelve per cent since 2005, have gone down across all racial and ethnic groups, with a particularly hopeful drop among births to African American women. Focus on quality prenatal care is thought to be the operant intervention.

The bad news inhabits the same statistics. Despite the improvement, blacks still have twice the infant mortality rates of whites, and the South continues to have significantly higher rates as a region.

Of course we ask, now what do we do? Quality natal care appears to be necessary (surprise), but not sufficient.

According to Anna Gorman, writing in the Los Angeles Times, as printed in the April 18 Seattle Times, in recent years health officials “have started recognizing that good medical care during pregnancy cannot undo a lifetime of exposure to stress and bad environment.” She likely could include poor diet, and other specific ravages of a low income environment. Gorman quotes one such highly placed official, “for us to improve birth outcomes, we really need to move beyond the nine months of pregnancy. Doctors and others have to start addressing the health of young women earlier.”

Just as we descend to the years before school begins for our students, so we descend before the life of our infant to the mental, physical and economic health of his mother, and imagine the conditions that will bring her to the conception of a child more ready in all dimensions to guide the child to thrive, likely because she herself already has flourished.

The logic marches toward us. The infant nourished by the mother who has benefitted from social program is the school child ready to meet the challenges of elementary school — whose life will then open into broader vistas, and will contribute to the humming of the national economy rather than become a burden upon it. Note to the policy maker and politician –while we approach these problems of social justice and the economy separately, they are in fact fragments that share some of the same origin.

Framing the question differently in a tighter context, does the Harlem Childrens’ Zone, by aligning outreach to pregnant mothers with reform of schools themselves, thereby reach a kind of social investment efficiency?

All boiled down, the problems of schools and the problem of infant mortality are problems of intractable and cyclic poverty, and of the receding commitment of American society to maintain a ramp to the middle class. Our viability as a first nation as well as our identity as a land of opportunity rests with a reversal of this course, for both bleeding heart and hard headed reasons. 

Focus on a just society may turn out to be at root the solution to our chronic and lamentable liabilities, whether in education or infant mortality. In truth, the latter are symptoms of the same ills, and our unwillingness or inability as a culture to address what and how we must.


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2 Responses to Schools and Culture: Progress in Infant Mortality Begs a Question or Two

  1. moving home says:

    this is very interesting. thanks for that. we need more sites like this. i commend you on your great content and excellent topic choices.

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