Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

School Counselors' Ways of Knowing and Social Orientation in Relationship to Poverty Beliefs

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

School Counselors' Ways of Knowing and Social Orientation in Relationship to Poverty Beliefs

Article excerpt

The number of people in the United States living in poverty continues to increase, and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Smith, 2012; Lein, 2013). DeNavas-Walt et al. (2012) used data from the U.S. Census Bureau (2012) report on income, poverty, and health coverage, which indicated that the number of U.S. citizens living below the federal poverty line increased from 32.9 million to 46.9 million between the years 2001 and 2011. Median household income continued to decline in 2011 and was 8.1% lower than what it was in 2007.

Lott (2002) described the majority culture's response to the poor as one of cognitive and behavioral distancing. She defined distancing as "separation, exclusion, devaluation, discounting, and designation of other" (p. 100) by individuals and society. Unequal class privilege exists in the form of barriers to optimal health and wellness for the poor and allows the creation of classist barriers in society (Lott, 2012). School counselors who work in high-poverty schools are uniquely positioned to assist students and provide coping skills for teachers, school staff, and parents (Amatea & West-Olatunji, 2007).

School counseling reform challenged school counselors to proactively advocate for students using a social justice framework (Lee, 2005). Counselors' training in multiculturalism and diversity, in addition to their knowledge of family life transitions and training in problem solving, provides skills for working with poor students and their families. School counselors also serve a vital role in working at the individual and macro level by removing barriers and inequities that exist within schools (Amatea & West-Olatunji, 2007; Griffin & Steen, 2011; Hutchison, 2011). By taking an advocacy leadership role, school counselors can voice the need for change and work to develop school and community initiatives (Lee, 2005). Furthermore, counselors advocate against institutional barriers and systemic insensitivities for students and their families. For example, school personnel may adopt a deficit model of functioning with families living in poverty, but school counselors can advocate for a strengths-based approach (Cholewa & Smith-Adcock, 2012; Lott, 2001). As social justice agents, counselors can address individual challenges to academic and personal success. Counselors can collaborate with stakeholders and effectively use data to point out inequities and create urgency for change.

One indicator of a school's poverty level is the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunch (FRPL). According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012) data, 31 million children received FRPL in the 2013-2014 school year (see Delisle & McCann, 2014). Counselors employed at schools with a higher percentage of students receiving FRPL have more interaction with students and families living in poverty (Grothaus & Cole, 2010).

Schools with a higher poverty rate usually have teachers and school personnel with less experience and a higher personnel turnover rate (Lott, 2001). School counselors and teachers may not feel adequately prepared to work with students living in poverty, and more experienced school personnel may prefer not to work in high-poverty schools (Abbate-Vaughn, 2006; Bryan & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004; Holcomb-McCoy & Johnston, 2008).

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of school counselors' beliefs about the causes of poverty, their social orientation, and the counselors' ways of knowing. The theoretical frame presented in this study provides information on defining poverty beliefs, horizontal and vertical social orientations, and ways of knowing.

Theoretical Frame

Poverty Beliefs

Historically, sociologists have advanced various theories to explain the existence of poverty in the United States. The three most prominent stratification theories are the following: (a) Poverty is caused by structural factors in society, (b) poverty is caused by bad luck or destiny, and (c) poverty is caused by individual characteristics of the person (Hunt, 1996, 2000). …

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