BY DAVID LACHANCE
A recent national survey found that just one in ten Americans considers poverty to be one of the two top issues government should address. But at Mount Holyoke, fifty students lined up for just twenty places in Poverty in the United States, a course offered for the first time this spring.
The interest was both surprising and gratifying for John Fox and Christopher Pyle, who together taught the course. They had little to base their expectations on; while many college courses touch on aspects of poverty, few are devoted entirely to the subject. “This is not a subject that our better colleges and universities take seriously enough," said Fox, a visiting lecturer of complex organizations.
Fox and Pyle, chair of complex organizations and a professor of politics, set out to equip their students to look beyond myths and stereotypes, to make their own critical analyses of the issues. Free-market conservatives, “compassionate conservatives," uncompassionate moralists, liberal reformers, and radical socialists all had a place in the extensive syllabus, as did charts, surveys, and census tables.
Pyle and Fox also had the students gather their own information in the community. Some compared conditions in elementary and vocational schools serving poor, middle-class, and affluent communities, while others volunteered at a local center that provides vocational and academic training for the homeless.
Fox and Pyle envision the possibility of a certificate program at Mount Holyoke linking other courses that address particular issues of poverty, such as housing, health care, or race and gender discrimination. For public and private organizations concerned with poverty, Fox and Pyle say, the College could become known “as the place to find students who, upon graduation, are ready to run with the subject."