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Letter: Poverty isn’t the cause of chronic absenteeism

Poverty isn’t the cause of chronic absenteeism

The News story of Sept. 20 on absenteeism in Buffalo’s public schools highlighted very well the serious issues responsible for this shocking educational breakdown. But anyone listing poverty among the causes of absenteeism – a breezily made assertion by the experts quoted in this article – is, I think, mistaken. As in past decades, many of today’s best students assuredly come from poor families. Absenteeism may be higher among the poor, but such correlation need not be taken as causality.

Prior to the breakdown of the American family that began in the 1960s, absenteeism was, to my knowledge, a comparatively small problem, even among the poor. My father grew up in relative poverty on Buffalo’s East Side. Not only did he not skip school, but he in fact accelerated his high school education so that he could get into the work force at 16 and help his struggling parents.

I grew up in a low-income family, where, in the mid-1940s, my father’s $40-a-week salary was what kept us going. I was a pupil in country schools, surrounded mostly by children of families like my own. Yet even the poorest child among us was in school every day. We were there because in most of our homes there was discipline and accountability, there were two parents, authority was generally respected and it was accepted by all that education was the key to success. Many of today’s homes are not like this.

The permissive society we’ve constructed for ourselves bristles with obstacles to education, but the experts who name these obstacles should stop harping on poverty.

Kevin H. Siepel