Archive for the ‘poverty’ Category

by Bahar Golipour

What is the earliest memory you have?

Most people can’t remember anything that happened to them or around them in their toddlerhood. The phenomenon, called childhood amnesia, has long puzzled scientists. Some have debated that we forget because the young brain hasn’t fully developed the ability to store memories. Others argue it is because the fast-growing brain is rewiring itself so much that it overwrites what it’s already registered.

New research that appears in Nature Neuroscience this week suggests that those memories are not forgotten. The study shows that when juvenile rats have an experience during this infantile amnesia period, the memory of that experience is not lost. Instead, it is stored as a “latent memory trace” for a long time. If something later reminds them of the original experience, the memory trace reemerges as a full blown, long-lasting memory.

Taking a (rather huge) leap from rats to humans, this could explain how early life experiences that you don’t remember still shape your personality; how growing up in a rich environment makes you a smarter person and how early trauma puts you at higher risk for mental health problems later on.

Scientists don’t know whether we can access those memories. But the new study shows childhood amnesia coincides with a critical time for the brain ― specifically the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped brain structure crucial for memory and learning. Childhood amnesia corresponds to the time that your brain matures and new experiences fuel the growth of the hippocampus.

In humans, this period occurs before pre-school, likely between the ages 2 and 4. During this time, a child’s brain needs adequate stimulation (mostly from healthy social interactions) so it can better develop the ability to learn.

And not getting enough healthy mental activation during this period may impede the development of a brain’s learning and memory centers in a way that it cannot be compensated later.

“What our findings tell us is that children’s brains need to get enough and healthy activation even before they enter pre-school,” said study leader Cristina Alberini, a professor at New York University’s Center for Neural Science. “Without this, the neurological system runs the risk of not properly developing learning and memory functions.”

The findings may illustrate one mechanism that could in part explain scientific research that shows poverty can shrink children’s brains.

Extensive research spanning decades has shown that low socioeconomic status is linked to problems with cognitive abilities, higher risk for mental health issues and poorer performance in school. In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have found that the brain’s anatomy may look different in poor children. Poverty is also linked to smaller brain surface area and smaller volume of the white matter connecting brain areas, as well as smaller hippocampus. And a 2015 study found that the differences in brain development explain up to 20 percent of academic performance gap between children from high- and low-income families.

Critical Periods

For the brain, the first few years of life set the stage for the rest of life.

Even though the nervous system keeps some of its ability to rewire throughout life, several biochemical events that shape its core structure happen only at certain times. During these critical periods of the developmental stages, the brain is acutely sensitive to new sights, sounds, experiences and external stimulation.

Critical periods are best studied in the visual system. In the 1960s, scientists David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel showed that if they close one eye of a kitten from birth for just for a few months, its brain never learns to see properly. The neurons in the visual areas of the brain would lose their ability respond to the deprived eye. Adult cats treated the same way don’t show this effect, which demonstrates the importance of critical periods in brain development for proper functioning. This finding was part of the pioneering work that earned Hubel and Wiesel the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

In the new study in rats, the team shows that a similar critical period may be happening to the hippocampus.

Alberini and her colleagues took a close look at what exactly happens in the brain of rats in their first 17 days of life (equivalent to the first three years of a human’s life). They created a memory for the rodents of a negative experience: every time the animals entered a specific corner of their cage, they received a mildly painful shock to their foot. Young rats, like kids, aren’t great at remembering things that happened to them during their infantile amnesia. So although they avoided that corner right after the shock, they returned to it only a day later. In contrast, a group of older rats retained the memory and avoided this place for a long time.

However, the younger rats, had actually kept a trace of the memory. A reminder (such as another foot shock in another corner) was enough to resurrect the memory and make the animals avoid the first corner of the cage.

Researchers found a cascade of biochemical events in the young rats’ brains that are typically seen in developmental critical periods.

“We were excited to see the same type of mechanism in the hippocampus,” Alberini told The Huffington Post.

The Learning Brain And Its Mysteries

Just like the kittens’ brain needed light from the eyes to learn to see, the hippocampus may need novel experiences to learn to form memories.

“Early in life, while the brain cannot efficiently form long-term memories, it is ‘learning’ how to do so, making it possible to establish the abilities to memorize long-term,” Alberini said. “However, the brain needs stimulation through learning so that it can get in the practice of memory formation―without these experiences, the ability of the neurological system to learn will be impaired.”

This does not mean that you should put your kids in pre-pre-school, Alberini told HuffPost. Rather, it highlights the importance of healthy social interaction, especially with parents, and growing up in an environment rich in stimulation. Most kids in developed countries are already benefiting from this, she said.

But what does this all mean for children who grow up exposed to low levels of environmental stimulation, something more likely in poor families? Does it explain why poverty is linked to smaller brains? Alberini thinks many other factors likely contribute to the link between poverty and brain. But it is possible, she said, that low stimulation during the development of the hippocampus, too, plays a part.

Psychologist Seth Pollak of University of Wisconsin at Madison who has found children raised in poverty show differences in hippocampal development agrees.

Pollak believes the findings of the new study represent “an extremely plausible link between early childhood adversity and later problems.”

“We must always be cautious about generalizing studies of rodents to understanding human children,” Pollas added. “But the nonhuman animal studies, such as this one, provide testable hypotheses about specific mechanisms underlying human behavior.”

Although the link between poverty and cognitive performance has been repeatedly seen in numerous studies, scientists don’t have a good handle on how exactly many related factors unfold inside the developing brain, said Elizabeth Sowell, a researcher from the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Studies like this one provide “a lot of food for thought,” she added.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/07/24/the-things-you-dont-remember-shape-who-you-are/

inequality

by Tami Luhby

The world’s 62 richest billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, according to a new report from Oxfam International.

The wealthiest have seen their net worth soar over the five years ending in 2015. Back in 2010, it took 388 mega-rich people to own as much as half the world.

And the Top 1% own more than everyone else combined — a milestone reached in 2015, a year earlier than Oxfam had predicted.

Oxfam released its annual report ahead of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos, a yearly gathering of political and financial leaders. The study draws from the Forbes annual list of billionaires and Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Databook.

The anti-poverty group, whose leader co-chaired the forum last year, wants to call even more attention to the widening wealth divide. The top 62 saw their net worth rise by more half a trillion dollars between 2010 and 2015, while the 3.6 billion people in the bottom half of the heap lost a trillion dollars.

Each group has $1.76 trillion.

“Wealth is moving rapidly to concentrate at the tippy, tippy top of the pyramid,” said Gawain Kripke, the director of policy and research at Oxfam America.

he income gap between the richest and poorest is also growing. The poorest 20% of the world — who live below the extreme poverty line, living on less than $1.90 a day — barely saw their incomes budge between 1988 and 2011, while the most prosperous 10% enjoyed a 46% jump.

“The global economy is not working to pull these people out of extreme poverty,” said Deborah Hardoon, Oxfam’s deputy head of research.

A separate report published last year by the Pew Research Center found that poverty worldwide has fallen by nearly half over the past decade. Still, 71% of the world’s population remain low-income or poor, living off $10 or less a day.

As for a global middle class, Pew called it more promise than reality. While the middle class has nearly doubled over the decade to 13% in 2011, it still represents a small fraction of the world’s population.

To help counter inequality, Oxfam is renewing its call for global leaders to crack down on tax havens, where the rich have socked away $7.6 trillion, the group estimates.

Other things Oxfam is advocating: pay workers a living wage and protect workers’ right to unionize; end the gender pay gap and promote equal inheritance and land rights for women; minimize the power of big business and lobbyists on governments; shift the tax burden away from labor and consumption and towards wealth and capital gains, and use public spending to tackle inequality.

http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/17/news/economy/oxfam-wealth/index.html

nelson-mandela-headshot-500px

In the desire to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life — an iconic figure who triumphed over South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime — it’s tempting to homogenize his views into something everyone can support. This is not, however, an accurate representation of the man.

Mandela was a political activist and agitator. He did not shy away from controversy and he did not seek — or obtain — universal approval. Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform. As one commentator put it shortly after the announcement of the freedom fighter’s death, “Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel. Over the next few days you will try so, so hard to make him something he was not, and you will fail. You will try to smooth him, to sandblast him, to take away his Malcolm X. You will try to hide his anger from view.”

As the world remembers Mandela, here are some of the things he believed that many will gloss over.

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism. Mandela called Bush “a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly,” and accused him of “wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust” by going to war in Iraq. “All that (Mr. Bush) wants is Iraqi oil,” he said. Mandela even speculated that then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan was being undermined in the process because he was black. “They never did that when secretary-generals were white,” he said. He saw the Iraq War as a greater problem of American imperialism around the world. “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care,” he said.

2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.” Mandela considered poverty one of the greatest evils in the world, and spoke out against inequality everywhere. “Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times — times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation — that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils,” he said. He considered ending poverty a basic human duty: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life,” he said. “While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists without due process. On the U.S. terrorist watch list until 2008 himself, Mandela was an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush’s war on terror. He warned against rushing to label terrorists without due process. While forcefully calling for Osama bin Laden to be brought to justice, Mandela remarked, “The labeling of Osama bin Laden as the terrorist responsible for those acts before he had been tried and convicted could also be seen as undermining some of the basic tenets of the rule of law.”

4. Mandela called out racism in America. On a trip to New York City in 1990, Mandela made a point of visiting Harlem and praising African Americans’ struggles against “the injustices of racist discrimination and economic equality.” He reminded a larger crowd at Yankee Stadium that racism was not exclusively a South African phenomenon. “As we enter the last decade of the 20th century, it is intolerable, unacceptable, that the cancer of racism is still eating away at the fabric of societies in different parts of our planet,” he said. “All of us, black and white, should spare no effort in our struggle against all forms and manifestations of racism, wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.”

5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies. Mandela incited shock and anger in many American communities for refusing to denounce Cuban dictator Fidel Castro or Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had lent their support to Mandela against South African apartheid. “One of the mistakes the Western world makes is to think that their enemies should be our enemies,” he explained to an American TV audience. “We have our own struggle.” He added that those leaders “are placing resources at our disposal to win the struggle.” He also called the controversial Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat “a comrade in arms.”

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions. Mandela visited the Detroit auto workers union when touring the U.S., immediately claiming kinship with them. “Sisters and brothers, friends and comrades, the man who is speaking is not a stranger here,” he said. “The man who is speaking is a member of the UAW. I am your flesh and blood.”

http://thinkprogress.org/home/2013/12/06/3030781/nelson-mandela-believed-people-wont-talk/

Thanks to Dr. D for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

povertyResearch based at Princeton University found that poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life. Experiments showed that the impact of financial concerns on the cognitive function of low-income individuals was similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep. To gauge the influence of poverty in natural contexts, the researchers tested 464 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income. Each farmer performed better on common fluid-intelligence and cognition tests post-harvest compared to pre-harvest.

Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University. As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes.

Published in the journal Science, the study presents a unique perspective regarding the causes of persistent poverty. The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty. A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer “mental resources” to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep.

But when their concerns were benign, low-income individuals performed competently, at a similar level to people who were well off, said corresponding author Jiaying Zhao, who conducted the study as a doctoral student in the lab of co-author Eldar Shafir, Princeton’s William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. Zhao and Shafir worked with Anandi Mani, an associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick in Britain, and Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard University economics professor.

“These pressures create a salient concern in the mind and draw mental resources to the problem itself. That means we are unable to focus on other things in life that need our attention,” said Zhao, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

“Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success,” she said. “We’re arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function. The very condition of not having enough can actually be a cause of poverty.”

The mental tax that poverty can put on the brain is distinct from stress, Shafir explained. Stress is a person’s response to various outside pressures that — according to studies of arousal and performance — can actually enhance a person’s functioning, he said. In the Science study, Shafir and his colleagues instead describe an immediate rather than chronic preoccupation with limited resources that can be a detriment to unrelated yet still important tasks.

“Stress itself doesn’t predict that people can’t perform well — they may do better up to a point,” Shafir said. “A person in poverty might be at the high part of the performance curve when it comes to a specific task and, in fact, we show that they do well on the problem at hand. But they don’t have leftover bandwidth to devote to other tasks. The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems. It’s the other tasks where they perform poorly.”

The fallout of neglecting other areas of life may loom larger for a person just scraping by, Shafir said. Late fees tacked on to a forgotten rent payment, a job lost because of poor time-management — these make a tight money situation worse. And as people get poorer, they tend to make difficult and often costly decisions that further perpetuate their hardship, Shafir said. He and Mullainathan were co-authors on a 2012 Science paper that reported a higher likelihood of poor people to engage in behaviors that reinforce the conditions of poverty, such as excessive borrowing.

“They can make the same mistakes, but the outcomes of errors are more dear,” Shafir said. “So, if you live in poverty, you’re more error prone and errors cost you more dearly — it’s hard to find a way out.”

The first set of experiments took place in a New Jersey mall between 2010 and 2011 with roughly 400 subjects chosen at random. Their median annual income was around $70,000 and the lowest income was around $20,000. The researchers created scenarios wherein subjects had to ponder how they would solve financial problems, for example, whether they would handle a sudden car repair by paying in full, borrowing money or putting the repairs off. Participants were assigned either an “easy” or “hard” scenario in which the cost was low or high — such as $150 or $1,500 for the car repair. While participants pondered these scenarios, they performed common fluid-intelligence and cognition tests.

Subjects were divided into a “poor” group and a “rich” group based on their income. The study showed that when the scenarios were easy — the financial problems not too severe — the poor and rich performed equally well on the cognitive tests. But when they thought about the hard scenarios, people at the lower end of the income scale performed significantly worse on both cognitive tests, while the rich participants were unfazed.

To better gauge the influence of poverty in natural contexts, between 2010 and 2011 the researchers also tested 464 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income. Because sugarcane harvests occur once a year, these are farmers who find themselves rich after harvest and poor before it. Each farmer was given the same tests before and after the harvest, and performed better on both tests post-harvest compared to pre-harvest.

The cognitive effect of poverty the researchers found relates to the more general influence of “scarcity” on cognition, which is the larger focus of Shafir’s research group. Scarcity in this case relates to any deficit — be it in money, time, social ties or even calories — that people experience in trying to meet their needs. Scarcity consumes “mental bandwidth” that would otherwise go to other concerns in life, Zhao said.

“These findings fit in with our story of how scarcity captures attention. It consumes your mental bandwidth,” Zhao said. “Just asking a poor person to think about hypothetical financial problems reduces mental bandwidth. This is an acute, immediate impact, and has implications for scarcity of resources of any kind.”

“We documented similar effects among people who are not otherwise poor, but on whom we imposed scarce resources,” Shafir added. “It’s not about being a poor person — it’s about living in poverty.”

Many types of scarcity are temporary and often discretionary, said Shafir, who is co-author with Mullainathan of the book, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” to be published in September. For instance, a person pressed for time can reschedule appointments, cancel something or even decide to take on less.

“When you’re poor you can’t say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to be poor anymore.’ Or, ‘Forget it, I just won’t give my kids dinner, or pay rent this month.’ Poverty imposes a much stronger load that’s not optional and in very many cases is long lasting,” Shafir said. “It’s not a choice you’re making — you’re just reduced to few options. This is not something you see with many other types of scarcity.”

The researchers suggest that services for the poor should accommodate the dominance that poverty has on a person’s time and thinking. Such steps would include simpler aid forms and more guidance in receiving assistance, or training and educational programs structured to be more forgiving of unexpected absences, so that a person who has stumbled can more easily try again.

“You want to design a context that is more scarcity proof,” said Shafir, noting that better-off people have access to regular support in their daily lives, be it a computer reminder, a personal assistant, a housecleaner or a babysitter.

“There’s very little you can do with time to get more money, but a lot you can do with money to get more time,” Shafir said. “The poor, who our research suggests are bound to make more mistakes and pay more dearly for errors, inhabit contexts often not designed to help.”

The paper, “Poverty impedes cognitive function,” was published Aug. 30 by Science. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation (award number SES-0933497), the International Finance Corporation and the IFMR Trust in India.

http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S37/75/69M50/index.xml?section=topstories

ben-affleck-argo

Actor Ben Affleck is getting ready to tackle his next project, which is raising money and awareness for global poverty, and that is why he will live on $1.50 per day. Affleck will start the challenge next week, and he will be joining thousands of others who will be doing the same challenge.

The campaign, Live Below the Line, bills itself as a campaign that challenges the way Americans’ think about poverty, and making a huge difference. Recently, the group announced on their Facebook page that Affleck will be taking part in the challenge, which requires those involved to feed themselves on $1.50 or less per day for five days.

Affleck announced on his Twitter profile that he was taking part in the challenge, and he also Tweeted that more than one billion people live on less than $1.50 per day. Affleck is following in the footsteps of fellow actor, Hugh Jackman, who started to work with Live Below the Line two years ago.

This year, stars such as Josh Groban and Tom Hiddleston are also joining the campaign.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/348761#ixzz2RZs9jsU0

Kitna-desk2-jpg_055221

Before he left the Dallas Cowboys to come home again, Jon Kitna had one request of the two principals who run Lincoln High School:

Give me your worst students.

The other teachers told him to stop. This was last February and it was going to be hard enough to teach three algebra classes in the middle of a semester. He was two months gone from an NFL career that went for 16 years, after all. Yes, this was his old high school, the one where he was a star quarterback in the early 1990s, but didn’t the new football coach understand what he was getting into?

Didn’t he see the numbers? Didn’t he know that four of every five of the students were on free or reduced lunches? That finding a meal was more important than understanding negative integers? Inspiring the best students was going to be difficult enough. Save himself, they advised. Start slow. Make it easy.

Kitna shook his head. Easy wasn’t the point. At 6-foot-4 with a buzz cut and a body built for football, he fills the classroom doorways. He would not be intimidated. And how could they understand this was the only job he ever wanted – that his time in the NFL was a daily preparation for this moment? No, coming home was supposed to be as hard.

And so again he told the principals to have the other math teachers select the students they didn’t want – the ones who didn’t listen, who didn’t try, who didn’t care. He would take them all. The principals nodded. Lists were made, class rolls prepared. The new football coach was handed three dream teams of troublemakers. They wished him luck.

Only something happened in those three algebra classes, something no one could have imagined. The students who didn’t listen suddenly did. Those who never did work turned in assignments. And when the results of the math assessments came in, Kitna’s students were second best in the school. It wasn’t because their teacher was an NFL quarterback. Many of them didn’t have televisions at home. They had little idea who Jon Kitna was. No, this was something else. Something bigger. Something one of those two principals, Pat Erwin, considers in his office one recent day and finally calls: “The Kitna effect.”

He doesn’t have to be here, of course. Sixteen years as an NFL quarterback brought him more than $20 million. It gave him big homes and nice cars. It allowed his wife Jennifer and three children to never need again. When he walked away from the Cowboys after the 2011 season, he could have gone to the golf course or the broadcast booth or even one of those sprawling high schools with a giant stadium in a suburb of Dallas if he only wanted to coach.

“I don’t think that’s what my purpose was,” Kitna says. “This is my challenge. This is what I was meant to do.”

He is sitting at a teacher’s desk in the front of a classroom not long before his Algebra I class. Everything has changed in 20 years. Things seem worse now. There are so many more drugs. The poverty shocks him.

Yet people he knows from the old days say the school was more violent when he was a student. Gangs roamed the halls. He remembers the gangs but many of those kids were also his friends and they shielded him from what they were doing. Perhaps his memories are sanitized. Maybe because he was surrounded by wealth for so long the hardship here is all the more unsettling.

He sat with his team in a pregame study hall one fall day and told the players to close their books. Something was missing. What was it? He could sense they wanted to learn. He could see them working in school. They tried hard at football practice. And yet simple homework assignments went unfinished. Grades that had improved then mysteriously dropped. For every step forward there was a stumble.

“What is the disconnect?” he asked.

For several moments no one said anything. Then slowly the stories spilled out. Terrible stories. Heartbreaking stories. The players told of homes without parents. They said nobody in the house asked to see their homework. They talked of barely existing at all. They said the only place anyone seemed to care was at school. And they told him that even then he was the only one to whom they could relate.

“It was eye-opening,” Kitna says. “It was tearful to hear kids say: ‘My parents when I am doing my homework tell me to stop doing my homework and go sell drugs.’ Or to hear a kid say: ‘I don’t ever eat because I want my mom to eat and only one of us can eat.’ ”

For a moment Kitna is silent.

Then he stops and looks up wistfully.

“All that being said, I’m on a gold mine,” he continues. “This place is a freaking gold mine because these kids are super, uber-talented. Not just athletically. You’ve got kids who can sing and blow the pipes off of things. You see kids who can do acting and drama-type stuff and arts that are just amazing.

“People [in the NFL] said I got credited for being a great leader, they [said] ‘even as a backup people are drawn to you.’ And they’d say ‘why?’ Because I went here. It’s because I went here. I’m thoroughly convinced of that because if you go here you don’t just get to be one kind of person, you have to be able to adapt and intermix yourself into all different kinds of cultures and situations.”

A buzzer sounds. Time for class. The room begins to fill. The kids are laughing. A few say “hello.” One asks what they are going to work on that day. Kitna watches them and smiles. “I’m on a gold mine here,” he says again.

It takes a village to change a culture, and Kitna has filled his coaching staff with friends and associates he has known over the years. This includes former Oregon State player Casey Kjos, a cousin who he raised as a son, and Eric Boles, his teammate at Central Washington University who played briefly in the NFL. Jennifer and his brother’s wife take care of details like making meals for the team during training camp because they figure the players will otherwise not eat. Since the school had little money for things like uniforms and equipment they took over the booster club and website, and set up a 501(c)(3) and began soliciting donations.

To show his seriousness, Kitna spent $150,000 to fill the weight room with equipment as nice as that in any NFL practice facility. He had the walls painted and named it after his old Lincoln teammate and longtime NFL safety Lawyer Milloy. Soon others followed. Carson Palmer, a teammate in Cincinnati, bought two industrial washers for uniforms. Current Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo provided the money for new jerseys. Calvin Johnson, his old receiver in Detroit paid for new equipment as did Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Since the kids didn’t have their own spikes for practice, the Cowboys boxed up dozens of cleats. When Nike took over the NFL uniform contract in the spring, the Seahawks sold their now useless game pants to Lincoln at $1 a pair so the team could have practice uniforms.

Several times, Erwin, the co-principal, has walked into the school on Saturday mornings and found Kitna washing uniforms.

“I think what he is trying to do is see what can happen to kids in a high-poverty area when you put them in a world-class setting,” Erwin says.

But inspiring kids who come from nothing is not as easy as wearing Marshawn Lynch’s pants and Dez Bryant’s old cleats. For every moment of joy comes a day that makes no sense.

Not long after he arrived, Kitna took the football team to Seattle for a series of 7-on-7 drills at the University of Washington. When he sent notes to the parents, only three called to ask about the trip.

Then when the bus returned to Lincoln at 11:30 p.m., Kitna was stunned to discover not one parent or relative had come to meet them. He and the coaches split the players up and drove them home. It was 12:15 a.m. when Kitna dropped off the last of the players in his car. And as the door shut and the player waved good bye, Kitna wept.

“I could never fathom that my son would leave for school at 6:30 a.m. with no money for food and some coach I never met or know is going to take him to the University of Washington for 7-on-7 drills and I don’t even know what that means and then not have any transportation when he gets back,” he says. “That’s when it hit me how hard this was going to be.”

And yet he keeps pushing because this is all he knows to do, walking through the halls with a computer bag over his shoulder, nodding to kids, calling them: “Dude.”

“Jon does everything he has with his whole heart,” says Boles, who is one of his assistants. “I told him: ‘You are responsible to the kids but you are not responsible for them. You can’t control it, Jon.’ But his belief is: If they can make one decision a week or one decision a day that is better than the day before then you are making an impact.”

Or as the other co-principal, Greg Eisnaugle, says as he stands in the hall one day: “He just exudes positivism. He makes the kids feel they are worthy.

Then Eisnaugle pauses.

“Have you met Rayshaun Miller?” he asks.

On the dream team of troublemakers, Rayshaun Miller was a lottery pick. He rolled through his first year and a half at Lincoln tormenting teachers so much that many threw their hands up in frustration. The tales of his arrogance and disrespect filled the main office. Once Erwin found him in the hallway boasting of his 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash and how he would tear through opponents on the football field.

“How will we know, Rayshaun?” Erwin said. “You can’t stay eligible.”

But there is also something compelling about Miller. He is bright. While most teenagers find it difficult to connect with adults, he makes eye contact. His handshake is firm. He likes to talk. This is the student Kitna met when he arrived last February, not the one who drove the teachers mad. At the time Miller was failing pretty much everything. Kitna said he would pick him up at his house at 6:30 every morning and drive him to school where they would work on algebra before the students arrived. Later in the day, he was in Kitna’s class, which gave him more than two hours of math daily with the new coach.

His grades soared. The kid who was failing got A’s and B’s. The kid who mocked his teachers waved good morning. When other students fought, he broke them apart. Soon word came to the office of a new, different Rayshaun Miller. And everyone wondered just what had happened.

Miller stands in the weight room after school one day and says: “I got my act together.”

He was born in Sacramento, Calif., and was sent to live with his father in Tacoma when he was 6 to escape the violence of his old neighborhood. He hasn’t seen his mother or brother since. He says he carried the anger over this for a long time. It was Kitna, he says, who told him he couldn’t use his background as a reason for giving up.

“He taught me there is no excuse for not trying,” Miller says.

Then Miller starts to talk about his old self, the one who tried to fail. He tells a story of a time he mocked a student for getting an A in a class. He remembers calling the student “stupid.”

Now, in the weight room, Miller laughs.

“Can you believe that?” he says. “I called someone ‘stupid’ for getting an A.”

Football was a miracle for Kitna. Even he never imagined he’d be in the NFL. It took years to become the starting quarterback at Lincoln. Nobody was waiting with a scholarship when he graduated. His parents helped him pull the money together to go to Central Washington, an NAIA school halfway across the state, where he found himself at the bottom of a long list of quarterbacks. Eventually he became the starter. His senior year, Central won the NAIA national championship, which got him mild acclaim in Washington but did nothing to further his career.

Assuming he was done with football, Kitna finished his teaching degree and began pursuing the dream he and Jennifer talked so much about: teaching and coaching. Lincoln was actually looking for a head football coach. He applied but was turned down.

Then a few days later Dennis Erickson showed up on Central’s campus.

The Seahawks coach at the time was there to give a tryout to his nephew, Jamie Christian, who was one of Central’s receivers. The tryout was a family favor, yet what amazed Erickson was the quarterback whose throws looked like rockets zooming into Christian’s hands. The Seahawks offered Kitna a contract and a spot in their 1996 training camp. He made the practice squad and after the season was placed on the roster of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League. Barcelona won the league title on home turf. Kitna was MVP of the championship game and left the field to chants of “Keeetna! Keeetna! Keeetna!” He was anonymous no more.

He made Seattle’s roster in 1997 and became the team’s starting quarterback in 1998. In 2001 he went to Cincinnati, then to Detroit in 2006 where he threw for 4,000 yards two consecutive seasons, eventually landing in Dallas in 2009.

Yet while this became his football narrative, it was never the story he wanted to tell. Rather the one he repeats, offering to anyone who will listen, is more complicated. It starts with a young college student from Tacoma who understood little about who he was. He went to parties. He drank until he was drunk. He stole. Boles, who speaks to companies about their image, once told a group from 7-Eleven: “You guys can invoice Jon Kitna because he stole so much from you.”
Boles was going through a religious awakening at this time. And he talked to Kitna a lot about what he learned. One night Jennifer, who was Kitna’s girlfriend at the time, came home to find him in bed with another woman. In the midst of the ensuing argument, Boles’ words suddenly made sense. And what came from that night was a different Kitna. The drinking stopped along with the stealing and the partying. His expressions of faith were overt, manifesting itself in T-shirts with slogans like “God Athletic Department” or caps with crosses. His bookshelf filled with spiritual texts.

His purpose became clear. He would teach. He would go back into the cities, to the worst of neighborhoods and he would make children better. He would tell them about choices and respect and responsibility. He was going to change lives.

With Lincoln being a public school, faith is not a part of the lesson plan. Kitna understands this and seems to respect it. After all, he is teaching in a district where students come from all over the world and from a variety of religions. And don’t the lessons he is trying to teach apply to everyone regardless of belief?

“Character is an every day, all the time thing,” Kitna says. “It’s who you really are. It’s not what you turn on and off when you’re around a coach or at home with your parents.”

He has a philosophy that he took from a team chaplain in Detroit. He calls it “the four pillars of manhood,” with each represented by a letter that forms the acronym: “R.E.A.L.” as in: A R.E.A.L. man…

Rejects passivity
Empathizes with others
Accepts responsibility
Leads courageously

And while R.E.A.L. is gender specific and targeted first toward the Lincoln football players, Kitna believes it to be a message that can be embraced by all the students. Who doesn’t need to be reminded to show empathy or courage or take responsibility for mistakes? Virtues are virtues, whether they are taught by a preacher or a math teacher or a football coach.

“Win with grace, lose with dignity,” Kitna says.

He sighs when he hears the complaints about NFL players celebrating touchdowns and sacks – mocking the failures of the opponent on that particular play. If people want to change this, he says, the time to do so isn’t when the players are in the NFL. It’s too late then. You have to reach them when they are teenagers.

And the lessons are harsh. One day this fall Kitna was told of a football player who watched another student draw a derogatory picture of a classmate. The football player had nothing to do with the drawing but he laughed. Kitna had a meeting with the player, the teacher and the student who was the target of the drawing.

“Well you didn’t do anything to help the situation,” Kitna told the player. “You didn’t reject passivity.”

Then he suspended the player for two series in the upcoming game.

Later that week, a group of football players surrounded a group of girl volleyball players from a different school who had come to Lincoln for a match. Two of the players danced suggestively in front of the girls. When Kitna found out about it the next day, he gathered the team together.

“Who was there?” he asked.

Two players raised their hands.

“Who else was there?” he demanded.

Eventually five more players stood before him with hands raised. “You who did it, you are out a half,” Kitna said. “And you who didn’t do anything about it, you are out for two series.”

Months later, now, Kitna shakes his head. Lincoln lost its starting quarterback, a starting defensive lineman, starting center, a starting receiver and a starting linebacker for parts of that next game. The other team returned a punt for a touchdown, perhaps in part because special teams practice was canceled for the meeting about the volleyball incident. The replacement quarterback had a pass intercepted for a touchdown and Lincoln lost. It was a critical defeat in a 5-5 season.

“They got to feel the impact of losing a football game because of the decisions we make,” he says. “But the greater things was [that] the freshmen got to see it. ‘Coach doesn’t play, he really means this.’ ”

In the classroom a projection device turns on, the lights go dim and Kitna stands before his Algebra 1 class with a problem to solve. Behind him, on a screen, is a drawing of a yellow cab with the following question:

“A taxicab company charges a flat fee of $1.85 plus an additional .40 cents per quarter mile. A: Write a formula to find the total cost for cab fare. B: Use this formula to find the cost for one person to travel eight miles.”

The students unpack their bags, pull pencils from holders and take school-owned calculators from felt caddies that hang on the wall but already something is wrong. Kitna can sense it. Then it hits him: Almost none of them have been inside a taxicab. They are staring at him because they don’t understand the question.

Before the first X or fraction or set of parentheses can be scribbled on paper, Kitna must explain taxicabs. He shrugs. Teaching is making him a very patient man. Carefully, he explains the concept of a taxi meter.

He had to give up two of the algebra classes this fall because the demands of building the football program became too much. He replaced them with weight training which gives him more time with the football players. He thinks it’s important that they see him as much as possible.

But there is also a part of him that loves this class. And there are so many stories, like the one of the girl who barely spoke for the first few weeks who is now one of the best students. He can see the recognition. He can feel learning. This makes him happy. For, yes, he is sitting on a gold mine.

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl–former-nfl-qb-jon-kitna-finds-%E2%80%98gold-mine%E2%80%99-at-a-school-where-other-teachers-only-saw-problems-194739063.html;_ylt=Ar6kvx3k_zQSjPSgERE96qY5nYcB;_ylu=X3oDMTRqMWdwbDRoBG1pdANMSVNUUyBNaXhlZCBMaXN0IEZQIEV4cGVydHMEcGtnAzIxOTE5NTcxLWE1YjgtM2ExMS04OGY2LTIzNWRmY2ZkMWM0YQRwb3MDMwRzZWMDTWVkaWFCTGlzdE1peGVkTFBDQVRlbXAEdmVyAzAwNDljNzIzLTRhYjQtMTFlMi1hZmJkLTNmOTY0NmQ5Y2ZmNw–;_ylg=X3oDMTFpNzk0NjhtBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANob21lBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25z;_ylv=3

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Phiona-Mutesi-Uganda-ches-007

She grew up in one of the poorest spots on earth. She couldn’t read or write. As a child, she scrounged for food each day for herself, her mother, and her brother.

But a chance encounter with a chess coach turned her into a rising international chess star, the subject of a book — and the protagonist in a future Disney movie.

Ugandan teenager Phiona Mutesi is “the ultimate underdog,” her biographer says.

Those who work with her believe she’s 16. But since her birthday is unclear, she might still only be 15, they say.

Her father died from AIDS when Mutesi was around 3.

“I thought the life I was living, that everyone was living that life,” the teenager told CNN, describing her childhood in Katwe, a slum in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

“I was living a hard life, where I was sleeping on the streets, and you couldn’t have anything to eat at the streets. So that’s when I decided for my brother to get a cup of porridge.”

Robert Katende, a missionary and refugee of Uganda’s civil war, had started a chess program in Katwe. He offered a bowl of porridge to any child who would show up and learn.

“It teaches you how to assess, how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecasts, endurance, problem solving, and looking at challenges as an opportunity in all cases — and possibly not giving up,” he told CNN. “The discipline, the patience … anything to do with life, you can get it in that game.”

Mutesi did not become a top player overnight. But from the time she first showed up in 2005, her aptitude was clear.

Her talent is “extraordinary,” said Katende.

Mutesi liked chess, and started training and practicing regularly. “It took me like a year” to get very good, she said.

She walked about four miles a day to practice — and to get that precious food.

Soon she found herself beating the older girls and boys in the program.

Mutesi and her family faced pressure from some people in Uganda who insisted chess was a white man’s game, or at least not something girls should be playing, according to her biographer, Tim Crothers.

But in her slum, so few people even knew what chess was that they didn’t give her a hard time, Mutesi told CNN.

Eventually, she became her country’s champion — and represented Uganda at international tournaments. In 2009, she traveled to Sudan. Then, in 2010, she boarded an airplane to Siberia.

When the flight took off, “I thought that I was maybe in heaven,” she wrote in a letter to her mother quoted in Crothers’ book. “I asked God to protect me because who am I to fly to the europlane.”

Mutesi had also never seen ice before.

This year, she played in Istanbul.

Mutesi is not one of the world’s top chess players. But she is the first titled female Ugandan player. She has a fighter’s instinct to reach the top level — and to achieve much more.

“Chess gave me hope, whereby now I’m having a hope of becoming a doctor and … a grand master,” she said.

A grant from a program called Sports Outreach has allowed her to go back to school. She’s learning to read and write.

Meanwhile, Mutesi is becoming an inspiration to people all over the world.

Some learned about her through Crothers’ article for ESPN, which went viral. Others have seen a brief documentary about her on YouTube.

Crothers’ book about her, “The Queen of Katwe,” was published this fall.

“That she’s from Africa makes her an underdog in the world. The fact that she’s from Uganda makes her sort of an underdog in Africa, because it’s one of the poorer countries in Africa. The fact that she’s in Katwe makes her an underdog in Uganda because it’s the most impoverished slum in the entire country. And then to be a girl in Katwe — girls are not treated as equals to the boys,” said Crothers.

“Every hurdle that the world can place in front of her it has placed in front of her.”

The extreme poverty and deprivation in Katwe is hard for many around the world to imagine. Crothers wrote that “human waste from downtown Kampala is dumped directly into the slum. There is no sanitation.”

Mutesi wakes at 5 a.m. every morning to “begin a two-hour trek through Katwe to fill a jug with drinkable water, walking through lowland that is often so severely flooded by Uganda’s torrential rains that many residents sleep in hammocks near their ceilings to avoid drowning,” he wrote.

In the country of 34 million people, about one-fourth live below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. About three-quarters of the men in Uganda are literate; only 58% of women are.

Mutesi told CNN she’s never heard of Idi Amin, the so-called butcher of Uganda, who helped plunge his country into economic chaos throughout the 1970s.

She does know the name Joseph Kony, a brutal Ugandan warlord who was the subject of a viral video earlier this year. Kids talk about him, Mutesi said.

“He was in northern Uganda torturing people and could kidnap children. That’s what I know.”

Chess could prove to be Mutesi’s ticket out of a hard life — particularly through a project that lies ahead.

Disney has optioned the rights to “The Queen of Katwe,” and is starting work on a movie, Crothers said.

It’s all too much for Mutesi to fathom.

“I feel happy,” she said when asked about the growing attention. “I’m excited. I didn’t have hope that one time, one day, I would be like someone who can encourage people, and they start playing chess,” she told CNN.

As her world travels take off, she’s in for more and more culture shock.

“I don’t like New York because there’s too much noise in it,” the teenager said with a big smile.

But while it may be somewhat overwhelming for her, Mutesi’s success at the game she loves is bringing joy to her family.

“Some of them cried. Years back we didn’t have hope that … one day it can happen,” she said. “So they are very excited.”

http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/10/world/africa/uganda-chess-teen/index.html?hpt=hp_c1