Sunday, April 02, 2006

Poverty, trauma, and stress, oh my

SEED Magazine
In 1989, no one would have dared to imagine that the environment we live in can profoundly influence the actual structure of our brain, or that childhood stress might have permanent neurological effects.
So what about chronic stress, poverty, trauma? How do these factors affect your child's developing brain?

These questions and more are explored in a fascinating magazine article I've read a few weeks ago. Though it's mostly about the pioneering work of Elizabeth Gould, a Princeton scientist illuminating the intricacies of neurogenesis in marmosets, it was the elusive implications of her work and others in her field which fired up my brain cells.

For instance, political implications. No doubt poverty is hugely stressful: how does the chronic stress of living in poverty affect a child's developing brain, even your adult brain?

Could this be why some people are so much more vulnerable to PTSD, especially if they had been exposed to trauma and/or stress in childhood?

Adding a few of my own editorial comments, what about the stressors of this new NCLB world on our kids, for instance, of chronic testing, and of the gradual march to a more impoverished curriculum due to NCLB edupolicy pressures, as noted in the recent Center for Education Policy report.

If NCLB provides a more stressful (and thus a more brain toxic) environment for our kids, does the NCLB eduworld really help our kids in school overall? If we see improvements in test scores, at what cost are we getting these so-called improvements? I'm keeping my eye out for solutions beyond the usual 'let's fully fund NCLB' mantra though there's been none I've seen on the horizon. (However, btw, I must add Chuck Pennachio running for Senate in PA is one of the few who really gets NCLB and isn't afraid to talk about his stance).

Back to the article: lots of new stuff, at least for me. For instance: intrigued about the Prozac and trophic factor connection. Certainly a minor paradigmatic change in thinking about Prozac: it somehow increase productions of trophic factors, which in turn increases in neurogenesis. Whoa. Now that's something but please don't let a policy wonk suggest we give Prozac to help kids increase the brain cells destroyed by the stress of chronic testing.