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Why Biden’s record players won’t solve poverty

September 16, 2019
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on stage during the democratic debate.
“Biden was voicing a deeply flawed theory that arose during the 1960s and that blamed parents, especially mothers, for the struggles of poor children and children of color,” writes Mical Raz, the Charles E. and Dale L. Phelps Professor in Public Policy and Health and an associate professor of history at the University of Rochester, in a Washington Post op-ed. (Getty Images photo)

Responding to a question about his record on race and schools during the last Democratic debate, former vice president Joe Biden urged poor parents to “make sure you have the record player on at night” in order for their children to hear and acquire enough words.

“While much of the criticism of the remark has centered on Biden’s old-fashioned choice of technology, far more important is that his sentiment reflected an equally out-of-date view on what plagues poor children,” argues Mical Raz, the Charles E. and Dale L. Phelps Professor in Public Policy and Health and an associate professor of history at the University of Rochester. Raz is also a practicing hospitalist at the University’s Strong Memorial Hospital.

“Biden was voicing a deeply flawed theory that arose during the 1960s and that blamed parents, especially mothers, for the struggles of poor children and children of color,” writes Raz in a Washington Post op-ed, published in the newspaper’s Made by History section. “These parents, the theory argued, doomed their children to fail in classrooms by not offering them enough mental stimulation, such as books, colors on the wall, or educational experiences.”

According to Raz, such theories fell out of favor in the 1970s, and have since been thoroughly debunked by researchers; yet this flawed understanding endures among policymakers and the public.

“As a result, policymakers like Biden often advocate what they perceive poor families to lack, such as positive role models, a respect for the values of education or even a better work ethic, rather than what poor families truly need: food security, jobs, access to health care, and affordable housing,” writes Raz.

Raz, an expert in public policy and health, is the author of What’s Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race and the War on Poverty (University of North Caroline Press, 2013) and The Lobotomy Letters: The Making of American Psychosurgery (University of Rochester, 2013). She’s currently working on her third book—a history of child abuse policy in the United States from the 1970s to today.

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Category: Voices & Opinion

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