The Answer to Everything

I am a person for whom school “worked.” I liked school so much that I gravitated back into school as a career choice serving as a school psychologist for the past 34 years. Like many people raised and living in middle class, I value education as the most effective strategy to improve one’s chances in life. If you work hard at school and pursue an interest about which you are passionate, you can succeed and have a stable life. I taught this to my kids and I continue to encourage students in the schools I serve to this day.

As I got involved in community work to address poverty through the Bridges Out of Poverty material, I realized that many well-intentioned middle-class approaches to addressing poverty apply the middle-class value of education in which I had always believed. If people need help, offer them a class! A good class will teach people what they need to know. It’s the answer to everything!

The problem, I began to realize, was that for many people who have come from a background of generational poverty, traditional education didn’t go so well the first time through. Many did not do well during their K-12 years and some accumulated college debt without every acquiring a certification or degree of any kind. Putting some people in a traditional classroom experience is somewhat of a post-traumatic stress experience. It turns out that traditional education is a really good answer for people who do well with traditional education experiences! Financial literacy is one of the areas that is often addressed through traditional classes and curriculum.

At the national Addressing the Challenges of Poverty Conference held in St. Louis in late September 2017, I got to meet and hear from Sara Money about the program that she developed called Money & ME. The first thing that Sara tells you is that “Money” really is her last name! But more importantly, she speaks of how she encountered this curriculum problem, recognizing that traditional materials, vocabularies, programs and classes were not meeting the needs of under-resourced community members, especially those coming from generational poverty. She recognized that learning about financial literacy required an approach that addressed the barriers people face. The result was her Money & ME curriculum. I encourage you to check into this program as one which might be useful for your own community work.

The brilliance of the Bridges Out of Poverty and Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World materials is that they allow people to explore their own experiences in a process and with language that makes sense to them. We will all benefit from more people like Sara Money who are taking the same approach with other specific areas. Learning, as opposed to traditional classes, may well be “the answer to everything.” Packaging learning opportunities in a format that can be accessed by those who need it most is one of the exciting challenges for those addressing poverty in their communities.

Jim Ott is an aha! Process national consultant, a school psychologist in northeastern Iowa, and the cofounder of the City of Dubuque’s Circles Initiative, which applies Bridges Out of Poverty concepts at the community level. He is also an Emerge Solutions member. Contact Jim at or through aha! Process.


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