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No quick fix for poverty

Melissa Wrapp | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mr. Myers,

Although I certainly appreciate the sentiment of your piece (“Changing the world through education,” Nov. 26), I find the suggestion that the “poor inhabitants in Africa, Asia, and South America” should “bootstrap themselves out of poverty” fairly offensive.

Most of the world’s poor do not suffer from entrenched, structurally-rooted inequities because they lack access to cutting edge technology or to the knowledge that could somehow enable them to transform their circumstances. Sadly, it seems poverty in many cases is linked to lack of access to the very basic necessities of life (food, water, shelter, etc.) that underpin all others.

I also feel your piece assumes a sort of intrinsic ignorance in people in Africa, Asia, and South America that is dangerously paternalistic. Imagine a scheme that provided the homeless of our very own South Bend (who apparently don’t have any “bootstrapping” to do) access to a computer and online videos of our classes. The idea that they would somehow be able to lift themselves out of poverty after watching the videos is preposterous. If hungry, how would they be able to concentrate and learn from the videos? (I can’t focus in class if I’ve missed a Grab-and-Go; I can’t imagine trying to learn philosophy, engineering or mathematics if I had been famished for months or years.) If shelterless, how would they bathe in order to prepare for an interview? And where would they find suitable clothes at that?

Your piece assumes that if people have the right knowledge and just try hard enough, they will be able to bootstrap themselves into the same socioeconomic situation that we have had the privilege of being born into. Frankly, that just isn’t true — in the United States or elsewhere. I love the idea of ND spearheading a new age of enlightenment and democratizing access to education, but let’s not be naïve about a quick fix to a deeply complex problem.

Melissa Wrapp


Cavanaugh Hall

Nov. 30