Full PreFrontal

Ep. 165: Horacio Sanchez - Poverty on the Brain & Executive Function

September 23, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 165
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 165: Horacio Sanchez - Poverty on the Brain & Executive Function
Show Notes Transcript

What’s the urgent and yet preventable crisis in America? It’s poverty! The discussion about the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, down-regulation of amygdala as well as the flourishing of Executive Function skills throughout childhood is incomplete when according to the Children’s Defense Fund one in six children in United States live in poverty. The impact of poverty is deep and wide taking not only a biological, psychological, and social toll on children but also on the nation’s GDP in lost productivity, diminished health outcomes, and even elevated crime rates. 

On this episode, the nation’s leading authority on resiliency and applied brain science,  educational consultant, and author of many books including The Poverty Problem, Horacio Sanchez discusses how building resiliency in children must include assisting them to form meaningful connections and build close relationships. By supporting kids during  critical times, we can activate the protective factors and strengthen their Executive Function in spite of the vast array of negative experiences of economic and other hardships.

About Horacio Sanchez
Horacio Sanchez is a highly sought-after speaker and educational consultant, helping schools learn to apply neuroscience to improve educational outcomes.  He presents on diverse topics such as overcoming the impact of poverty, improving school climate, engaging in brain-based instruction, and addressing issues related to implicit bias. He is recognized as one of the nation’s leading authorities on resiliency and applied brain science.

Horacio has been a teacher, administrator, clinician, mental health director, and consultant to school districts across the United States. Horacio sits on the True Health Initiative Council of Directors, a coalition of more than 250 world-renowned health experts, committed to educating on proven principles of lifestyle as medicine. He is the author of the best-selling book, The Education Revolution, which applies brain science to improve instruction, behaviors, and school climate.  His new book, The Poverty Problem, explains how education can promote resilience and counter poverty’s impact on brain development and functioning.



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About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

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Sucheta Kamath: All right, welcome to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. You all are familiar with the topic and you know what we always do. We dive deep and really understand best ways to support children and adults in self-management, developing a sense of self developing the skills and strategies that allows us to lead in the most effective ways while managing our goals, managing our relationships, and managing our relationship with the future self. But let's talk about some barriers, you know, what's the urgent and yet preventable crisis in America. And that's poverty. stats show that one in six children are living in poverty. And we have 30 to 40 years of research now, that actually does show that poor children, children from poverty are more likely to have poor academic outcomes, they are likely to drop out of high school readily for the reasons of the instability that they experienced, they are likely to become unemployed, and continue to struggle to get reemployed. There are barriers of maintain, there are a lot of barriers that they experience in maintaining economic stability, and the hardship seems to be everlasting. And I have personal experience from my work with the City of Atlanta working with the homeless population, incarcerated population who is trying to get back to work. And I've, I've seen as developing a program for them how to become job ready their own relationship with their internal barriers, such as social emotional difficulties, depression, you know, addiction, and then socio-economic barriers, not having stable relationships with the community, and finally not having adequate money to secure housing. And so for the first time, as I have matured, in my profession, I have understood that poverty is related to politics. And I'm not an expert in politics, but there's definitely something we as a community need to think about. So with that in mind, it is such a pleasure and honor to talk with a colleague and expert and a brilliant philosopher, I would call him even though he is chuckling. I have with me today is Horacio Sanchez. He is a highly sought-after speaker and educational consultant, he helps schools learn to apply neuroscience to improve educational outcomes for all children. He presents on diverse topics as overcoming the impact of poverty, improving school climate, engaging in brain-based instruction, and addressing issues related to implicit bias. He also has written two fantastic books, one being The Education Revolution: How to Apply Brain Science to Improve Instruction and School Climate. And his second book, which I'm going to be talking a lot about today is The Poverty Problem. And in the, in the introduction of that he talks about the economic hardship is changing our students brain structures as a, at a genetic level, producing psychological, behavioral and cognitive issues that dramatically impact learning behavior, physical health and emotional stability. But there is hope. So let's get into it. Welcome Horacio. How are you?

Horacio Sanchez: I am great. Happy to be here.

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you for your time. And let's dive into this a complicated and very important topic. Do you mind defining poverty for us? And what is the relationship of poverty in general with children who are living in poverty? 

Horacio Sanchez: Okay. I think defining poverty is one of the problems I think poverty is a complex issue. And if you start to reduce it to finance, you're ready lose. Poverty is social. It is biological, it is psychological. It is environmental is genetic is epigenetic. It is a combination of all those factors. And that's what makes poverty so overwhelming, because it actually attacks children from so many angles that it overwhelms them.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, I really like that you mentioned that because I think people want to know, what is the cutoff mark, you know, $23,000 per year. That's a lot of money, but there's nothing, it doesn't even capture the whole picture. I like the concept of impoverished life. I think poverty leads to impoverish life. And so, can you talk a little bit about this idea of, in what ways like one of the ways to the brain develops itself is through this incredibly vivid and and and massive diverse life experiences and that impoverishment can have a tremendous impact on that, right?

Horacio Sanchez: Well, I think the reason poverty probably has the most impact on that is that the part of the brain that we're most concerned with, in some ways is the prefrontal cortex. And that is the part of the brain that takes the longest to develop. So that is the most impacted by our environment. So if you think about just with no other factors, just the environment, and the loss of stimuli, the exposure to trauma, the the other risk factors that people encounter, just growing up with that environment versus another environment, and how it impacts the development of the prefrontal cortex, that by itself would be sufficient to say, poverty is overwhelming individuals. But the problem with that is, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There's so many other ways that poverty is impacting multiple areas of the brain. But prefrontal cortex is the worst because it takes so long to develop, and all the things we encounter along the way, can cause setbacks. And I think that's why poverties and the prefrontal cortex just have a dance that is actually cruel.

Sucheta Kamath: And I would love to hear your perspective. Because one of the hallmarks of that mature and appropriately developing prefrontal cortex hits the milestones where the child transitions from self regulated to even more self regulated. So anybody who's not self regulated, exhibit that through misbehaving. And a hallmark of immature prefrontal system is misbehaving child. But I think that suicidally, or contextually or behaviorally is a child who becomes a burden for the teachers or parents to manage. And that gets more traction than the underlying problem. So what do you think about this, this, the expression of the impact on the brain, the negative impact is unfavorable to the child's own future or child's own, what he needs. It actually is antihelp, right? 

Horacio Sanchez: Well, if we were to think about the number one predictor of success in life, it is the ability of that prefrontal cortex to exercise control over the other parts of the brain. And, and one of the things we talk about gray matter a lot. And if you look at a lot of the researchers, they talk about the loss in gray matter in areas like the prefrontal cortex or the amygdala. But there's two things going on in gray matter talks about how well a region functions. white matter talks about how well it communicates. Well, one of the things we started to see is that not only does poverty reduce gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, it reduces the connections of the white matter to those areas like the amygdala, so children don't control their emotions as well. And so we jeopardize the system, our system is supposed to be that this big prefrontal cortex is supposed to keep us in control most of the time, you know, everybody has times that you go Cuckoo. Everyone has that. But you can usually count it on one or two hands, hands, you know, but for people who you jeopardize the system, the the incidence of loss of control become overwhelming. And it gets to a place where it's not that we had a hiccup is that the hiccup becomes a pervasive kind of thing. One of the things we started seeing that was really interesting is that the more you lose control, the more chances that you will lose control in the future. Because your system starts to no longer lose control based on a specific type of stimuli, it starts to lose control because of your emotions. So a kid can just hit a certain level of emotion and lose control rather than lose control because Something terrible has happened out there in the environment. And so those kids missread things, or overreact to things that everybody's thinking, why are they acting that way? But it's because they've lost control so many times that the systems actually jeopardized and they're in a they have an inability to control themselves.

Sucheta Kamath: What you're saying is reverberates so much with me because this reminds me of Ashley Ford's story. Recently, she was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. And she was talking about her own experience, childhood experience growing up in poverty. And the she endured a lot. And and the way she showed up in the classroom, you know, at 13, she was already she had been raped. At at nine, she had experienced molestation, she had a father who was in jail, in prison, her mother worked as a corrections officer, and she was trying to raise three children with, you know, long hours and extra shifts she would take so that she can support but her when she was getting ready to apply for college, she saw for the first time her mother's income, which is $40,000, of having worked for 20 years. So now you get the picture of somebody who's growing up with these adversities. And when she showed up, she said, I was not into school, I was feeling I was so much in my head. I was, I was going through these emotions. And there were two teachers who understood that there's something going on, but I was full of potential. And I think that is also of course, asking a lot from a teacher or educators. But there is that interplay between those who are serving children have deep needs and those children the way they present, sometimes not in a way that are teachable. And that interaction can be very tense. Can you speak about that process a little bit? And how can we build that perspective to see the child in the biggest possible way, like the bigger picture of where they may be coming from? And not all stories are revealed? 

Horacio Sanchez: Right, right. But I actually think I have a different take on that, because they're kids that come out of the same home. And one has an easy temperament and the other one has a difficult temperament. And they will tend to have completely different outcomes, regardless of being in the same environment. Because temperament is kind of random, and one temperament seems to insulate you better than another. And so many times there are kids who are at risk that teachers migrate towards or attracted towards, because they seem to have some of the same potential of the same presentation of self as all the other kids. So that's not exceptional to me. I'm sure she had something that drew teachers to her because all the things that you're talking about usually presents a person that no one wants to be drawn to. Those are not the kids I'm worried about. There are lots of kids in poverty that come out really great, because and they overcame and all that stuff. Yes. Yeah, that's a very good point. The big story, the big story now is, how can teachers take the majority of kids who are not overcoming and do something for them, because the exceptions are going to rise alone, I'm not worried about the exceptions, teachers are great in spotting those kids. I'm worried about the majority, that stay right there and never decide to even go to college or never decide to do anything else. And that's where we have to start getting teachers to see the potential there.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow, that's a really, really important distinction. And thank you for pointing that out. So you're really talking about the kids who are dysregulated and are struggling with their sense of self may not be feeling great about who they are. And their response style or their approach to life may be unfavorable, they may be losing it very quickly. They may be uncooperative, they may be abrasive or they may be mean to other kids, but they are likely to be dismissed. Can I address also another group of students, which is these loners? Those who are getting isolated those who are really are more unseen. You know, they don't have specific identities. They have no specific talent, but they're not troublemakers, but they are like brooders maybe, you know, and they probably are subjected to a lot of teasing or exclusion moreso and I see that a lot in my practice, as well. What are your thoughts about that group of students who don't have any charm or talent or they're not rabble rousers? 

Horacio Sanchez: You know, I see them the same when you take that temperament spectrum you have all the way over here easy temperament and all the way over here you have difficult temperament but over here you also have shine anxious temperament, the kids you're talking about. Yeah. And and to meet the schools actually are designed to actually spend more attention to difficult temperament because difficult temperament is going like doing crazy stuff. And it was looking, while the brooder you're talking about is staying quiet, it wants not to be noticed and is pulling back as much as possible. And as long as they're not making enough noise, we forget them. But oftentimes I tell schools that there has not been one mass shooting in America done in a school that's been done by difficult temperament students. All of them have been done by shy and anxious temperament students who had taken on so much abuse that they got to the part where they started to do their fantasy. And they started to train themselves, and then they started to get to the place where that happens. And yes, the occurrence is low. But it just speaks to the fact that we don't notice these kids until something dramatic happens. So both of those profiles coming out of poverty are severely impacted. Those two profiles coming out of middle income or more affluent homes, many of them overcome their temperament issues, because they have enough support and structure that they start to overcome. So we have a person who's slightly shy, but she's slightly shy, and she went to college and she's got a job and she's a little quirky, but she's doing fine. And you know, so out of the same temperaments, poverty as an overlay, that's overwhelming, because I think the teacher is sometimes are not aware of how quickly our brains work and making decisions. I talked to teachers just yesterday about the the probably process a person's speech, and I tried to tell them, what a person says, is almost irrelevant. Because at 200 milliseconds, we determine emotion, yes, 300 milliseconds, we determine identifiers. Our brain says who is talking, we, we guess just from a tone of voice, their gender, their race, their level of education? Well, after 400 milliseconds, we start to listen to words. So I told the story that I go into classes, and I see a kid make a very brilliant statement. But the teacher already is used to their emotional tone, knows the identifiers, and those two things have subconsciously not consciously subconscious made the teacher think that student is irrelevant. And therefore before the words are processed, there's already a as a an assumption, that the words are not going to have value. And I think that's happened to majority of kids in poverty, because they present in a way that their tone, biases, teachers, their indicators, their identifiers, bias teachers, and many times they're not heard, because once a kid is elevated, or or presented themselves the problem, you have this wonderful system in your brain called Microsaccades, they're done with your eyes, and you subconsciously monitor troublemakers more. If you subconsciously monitor someone more, you see them do more things. So they just become more pronounced in your brain confirmation bias. Yes, exactly. And the kid will confirm it too. Because once the kid thinks they're getting caught all the time, that kid's gonna get pissed off and say, Well, if you got to pick on me, then I'm going to act out more and then you get this wonderful vicious catch 22 and i and i think a lot happens to so many kids from poverty, because they're, they're facing so many things, and they present so many times with such strong emotion. And our brains are designed to be put off by this presentation of strong emotions.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, my head is spinning about thinking about so many ways this plays out because, you know, I've been I've been reading, researching gifted, educating gifted children, and apparently teacher is teaching to the 27th percentile functioning kid in the classroom. Why? Because then when it comes to need, it's all how you present yourself. And so, if you are either not engaged or not participating, even though your brain is brilliant and wired to understand complex matter, but if you have problems in processing information, that teacher is teaching your presentation that is influencing the teachers way of teaching you then the whole you know, the cascading is not elevating the classroom climate, but kind of maybe deteriorating it. And then I think another interesting thing that may must also happen is this dynamic is observed by everybody else. So those who have something to contribute are going to hang back and those who are not interested to begin with see this chaos and probably so it becomes managing the most difficult behaving children. And that's not really teaching environment is it? So how do we look at this, then?

Horacio Sanchez: Well, you're talking, you actually stumbled on what that is called concentrated poverty. And the problem of concentrated poverty is whatever is pronounced in poverty becomes more pronounced when you have a bunch of kids from poverty together, and we have a lot of concentrated poverty schools. And immediately when you do that, you end up with all the issues more pronounced, and people feeling so overwhelmed that they don't believe they can do something with it. And the there's a, there's some pronounced problems with the bringing a bunch of kids who have the same issues together, the amygdala is attracted to itself, it duplicates what is the most familiar, so you set patterns, and oftentimes the patterns are negative, and they become so pervasive that it just becomes the way we do things. And it also damages the person's self image, because the person starts to think this is who I am anyway. And in many of the things that come out of poverty, people have actually said, it's part of culture, because they, that's all they know. And there's like, this is part of our culture, you know, we're more abusive as parents, because it's part of culture, that's not part of culture. That's more intense parenting is part of poverty, because it's correlated to stress. So you take anyone to any race and culture and put them in poverty, they tend to be more definitive, more physical type of parenting approach, because it's the outcome of stress. Cortisol, absolutely. So we missed, misinterpret those kinds of things.

Sucheta Kamath: And you know, this reminds me of Annette Larou's work where she studied followed families for 12 or 13 years and, and she saw, you know, below, or middle class below middle class families structures and how they raise children. And one distinct impact on language is the families who are living below middle class, which is maybe above poverty or, or close to poverty, or in poverty are definitely using language of directives, like giving instructions all the time, there is no invitation to reflect, think, include their opinion. So it becomes do this, don't do that. And, and so, but that is a product of having multiple responsibilities to meet make ends meet. So before if we don't contextualize that we may misunderstand it, and what they saw in middle class families that there was a lot of support and advocacy language children were getting from their parents. So there's another missing point as well. So you've been referring a lot to the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, let's do a little deeper dive. And I love the way you always talk about the amygdala. So tell us a little bit tell our listeners, what amygdala is, we have two of them what role they play, and how they actually hijack the prefrontal cortex, where we sound decision making, that we all are capable of doing.

Horacio Sanchez: Right, the amygdala is, first of all has the primary role of our survival. And I think if you think about that, then you start to understand it a little better. It also is what produces emotional expression in us, but also reads emotional expression of the people. There's also the crisis response of our brain, when the amygdala sees something threatening in us, it actually secretes a hormone that temporarily cuts off interference from the cortex. Your amygdala also holds emotional memories, your best of things and your worst of things. But don't think that's equal, because far more things that are bad get into the amygdala because we're born with a negative bias. So if you start to just think about that, think two kids and one kid grows up in this wonderful home and and they've not been exposed to abuse or traumas in their amygdalas are wonderful values and beliefs. You have another child has been exposed to trauma abuse, very little values that are called normative, they have values, but they're not normative values, their values that says, someone touches me, I beat them up. That's a completely different kind of values. You get both of those kids in your classroom, and you stress them and the amygdala temporarily cuts off the cortex. What is in their amygdala is the only thing they have available to make a decision. Well, this kid has a lot of values that help them make a good decision, even in crisis. This person is going to do what they've actually been exposed to in stress and trauma, which is violence or abuse. It is not equitable. Even though both were ADD jack their behaviors are slightly different. So when some of the most significant behaviors of our own When we're emotional, are made solely by our amygdalas, because our prefrontal cortex and those times are not involved. So what's what we've experienced emotionally starts to dictate our patterns. And the patterns that many kids who have experienced trauma is oftentimes so negative that you expect them to do something differently, when they are emotional is almost silly. And the issue isn't confronting them or stressing them. In the early days of clinical work, some people used to say we should stress kids like that, which is just silly to me, because they said, We can only deal with every stress them. Well, the issue for these kids is to get them to a place where they spend more days being stable, not more days, coping with stress. You can't retrain stress, you can retrain, how we deal with calm and may calm, be more pervasive, you know, stress responses, stress response.

Sucheta Kamath: And so we know that amygdala is this tiny little, you know, structure next to the hippocampus, which is our memory structure that processes information. But amygdala is also activated very quickly, because it is trying to protect us. It's alarming, it's recognizing, so it's an action center that looks out for signals from the world. And the distinction as as you often talk about this, as well, that the distinction is what is perceived to be a threat. So as a child, can we talk a little bit about for a child, whether they're growing up in poverty or not, a challenge can be a threat, like learning challenge, or novelty of learning itself can be a challenge, right? 

Horacio Sanchez: So in the amygdala, actually new is a threat.

Sucheta Kamath: New is a threat, of course. 

Horacio Sanchez: So so but think about think about this, okay? The amygdala is often aroused by new things. That's and if you want to think about healthy people deal with this poorly, so you go to a school, and they put in a new software system, and all the teachers go crazy, I can't stand this system I want I don't want my old system back. That's a healthy person acting silly when you take a kid who's struggling. And what do teachers do at school, they constantly introduce students to new things. And the students who can't cope with that and don't comprehend it well, and they know it's going to bother them, they start to figure out ways to stop teachers from introducing new things. So they're just suppose and I tell teachers, if you already know that happens, why don't you just plan for it? Our brains are designed to take new information really well, if we can associate to what we know. So one of the things you might want to do is find out what the kids know really well. And when you introduce new stuff, make the Association for them. And then they're gonna be like, Oh, I know that. Oh, that's what you want, as a teacher, good teachers make people think, Oh, I understand that. Yeah, easy.

Sucheta Kamath: Exactly. You know, funny story, a friend of mine had come from another town, she was visiting Atlanta, and she asked to borrow a friend's car. And the friend was ready. But then she said, No, no, I can't give you my car, because it has my cars, and my child's carpool number in it. So, so the reason to not give her car was because she wanted to drive the car with the carpool number sticker on it. And so my friend and I were like, well, you can have an artificial I mean, you can make a little card and hold it, you know, but that small change. She was like, not able to switch gears, you know, that that ability to think flexibly and say, Sure, you can have a car, I won't have the sticker, I'll make up a sticker, you know. So you're right. I think it's it's a tiny example. But I think it's just a telling of how resistant we are. And the second thing I was thinking about, you know, one of the things I mean, I do executive function training, or in the ExQ, the curriculum that I have developed, one of the things that I have tried and build a compensation for it is a prediction level difficulty prediction. Because I think sometimes even if you're asked to predict how hard this is going to be for you, you kind of start preparing yourself, Oh, this looks a little hard. So kind of giving children a dry run, and opportunity to experience the experience before it's a full experience. So that they have a little bit of is like a preview before you watch the whole movie. Here. However, you have no choice, you will have to watch the whole movie, but you kind of begin to expect something. So as you talk about the children and parents, I mean, teacher relationship. How do you see this translate at home? What can parents do to tone down this activated highly alert amygdala that ready to pounce?

Horacio Sanchez: Yeah, I've been for years have toyed with the idea of just making, like 10 minute webinars, what every parent should know, because a lot of the things that kids need are not as hard as people think. For one, getting kids to bed at a regular time dramatically helps their brain because it helps their brain be able to remember things, do higher level learning, and helps their brain recalibrate and flush toxins. And you can only do that in REM. And the brain does, you get to sleep better if you're on a schedule. So the importance of just getting your kid to bed on a schedule, getting your kids to exercise, getting your kids to eat better. And many times these things don't happen, because everyone thinks they're so busy. I think I tell teachers the other day that we spend too much time talking about the biggest issues in the world. And some of the things that dramatically change our brains the most are little things, how to how I manage sleep, how I manage exercise, how I managed diet, then if you have those three things done, you have a great foundation to build upon. Then the other things we know about poverty that you can overcome pretty quickly, I tell some parents tongue in cheek, but it's actually been proven, hey, even if you don't want to read, go get some books and just throw them in the house and have them around because they found out just having books around. Even if the parents don't read them just just just buy some books thrown around. Just all you have to do do that. You know, um, the other thing we try to tell people is that if you can't do something, get someone who can. Because one of the things that happens to a lot of kids in poverty is that they, they don't hear a wide enough range of words and words pronounced correctly. And that really hurts the auditory processing that will impact them long term. Well, listen, there are lots of in almost every community, there are few people who really speak really well. And read really well and all that stuff, go and talk to them and say, Would you be willing to come over and read to my kid, you don't you don't, don't do it by yourself. And if anybody should do community, it should be the poor, because they're going to need each other because then this the things that they're coping with are so overwhelming, they should really try to raise their children and community. But the opposite is happening right now. Right now we have more and more poor people thinking life is so hard, we have to teach our kids how to make it by themselves. And that's actually hurting their kids. Because one of the things we know is how well I am able to get along with you is highly indicative of how well my brain will process. Our ability to socially connect and build community has to do with our brain's levels of empathy, interpreting social cues, interpreting complex things and literature. You can't do that without empathy. And the more we raise people to say, I am going to be my own man, no one is their own man, no one's an island unto themselves. And islands, by the way, are maladaptive. People need people. But we have more and more people coming out of poverty saying, I have to make it by myself. Because their parents think I have to make them so strong to survive this ugly world. They're hurting them. So I'm trying to tell parents, yeah, he needs to be strong. But you need to help him make connections with healthy people, because that will dramatically change his or her brain. And I think, I think that's just, it's just conflicting lessons. And I understand the lesson, believe me, if kids are getting beat up, they're then telling you gotta be strong. You've got to stand up for yourself, I understand that. But you need to also tell them, there's a different behavior for different locations, you should behave the same as church, as you behave in the gym. You shouldn't behave the same school as you behave on a public transportation. You can take on different personas. And I think that's an important lesson to start to teach kids so they can put on the external facial posture, voice cues, they'll make them attractive in this world, because believe me, having a few advocates has dramatically changed so many students lives and the ability to just have one or two people take an interest in you is kind of one of the stories of resiliency.

Sucheta Kamath: I love that and I think a such a great way to summarize You know, I think people really think like you remember the craze Baby Einstein. I mean, of course, it turned out to be a hoax. But But you know, people are investing so much money, when they could literally sing a lullaby or like just talk to the kid, or, you know, use baby language and you know, coochie coo or something, you know, crazy. But other important things that I think you said, Is this sense of community where we have this amazing, you know, rain people with ranges of experiences as well as expertise. But we used to interact with people, I think there's so much isolation us as a community is that people are become consumers of inflammation. It's not a two way street. So when you're online, you are part of a community, but you're not, you're receiving, you're never giving.

Horacio Sanchez: You're not part of it, you're part of a community, they tell you, you're part of a community, but the brain needs a different level of interaction to be part of a true community. I mean, if they did long, large, long term studies on on girls who were part of communities online, and the greater their investment in those communities, absent of true interpersonal communities, the greater the risk of depression, isolation and suicide. The community the problem, the the problem with the concept of community, there are a few things that have changed. And I think people keep on thinking poverty is the same. I tell people poverty is like pot, you know, the old pot that we were smoking when we are young, it's not the pot they're smoking today is completely different. Poverty is different today. If you if you take someone who's around my age, and you talk to tell us how it is different, I think that's such a, you know, it's hilarious analogy, I get it, that people stand up and they go like this. I didn't know I was poor till I was in college. And then I found out I was poor. And that's because they were in a community, everyone was the same and they didn't feel anything bad about themselves. You see this, this means that you have access to the world, there's not a kid out there doesn't have one of these, even if they're poor. And guess what? This tells them what everyone else has, what every morning, your iPhone, yes. And so what basically what basically is happening is, kids know how poor they are. And also, the other thing that's happened is because of such generational poverties, what ends up happening is the intensifying of issues in communities in of the poor, have reduced community. There's no longer that ability to go to certain communities and have your poor, but we're all going to band together, the stressors of survival of third generation and fourth generation poverty makes communities that people are scared to engage in community. And so the world has changed. And that's why you see, for the first time, the brains of kids from poverty are not being impacted solely by diet, and lack of exposure to stimuli. And if you want to really test how good poverty is changed, the research that shows the babies in structured homes of poverty start to show elevated cortisol, by seven months tells us something, which is normal, you have a shot by seven months in life, your your stress levels already higher, because there is something different about poverty now, and it is dramatically changing kids brains. And if we don't want to start thinking about this and attacking it differently, we're going to end up with a problem. And one of the problems with schools always been the schools are designed for the norm. And and poverty used to not be excluded from the norm. It was just poor kids versus rich kids. Right now, poverty is excluding majority of kids from the norm. Therefore, education is not working for the poor. And if you look at concentrated poverty schools that they're trying to do all of these great initiatives, they're still the worst performing schools. It's there's that there's that magic going on there. So I'm I'm really starting to advocate that for poor students, we need to have a different approach. And if we just modify certain things for schools to concentrated poverty, you can give them a shot. And let me give you one example. If I was running a school today, for kids in concentrated poverty, I would, I would want a big investment in grants where I can get kids to actually every single kid in the school starts to learn and to play an instrument and to practice and because just the practice seems to change the density of the brain and improve regions that has to do with this whole area of learning. Which, but also restores auditory processing. So that is attacking the brain from a different angle that might be more needed in this school than any other schools. Hmm. But the interesting thing you mentioned gifted education. Here's my big peeve. Many of the things we do for gifted education is exactly the thing we need to do for poor kids.

Sucheta Kamath: Exactly. Oh, my God, it annoys me. Can I also add to that, that, you know, because I'm a speech language pathologist, and we work with people who are struggling, everything about restoring or helping to overcome struggles is what strategic thinking. And then you come to regular classroom. And the strategic thinking is for people who struggle. And there's no strategic thinking for people who don't need any strategic thinking, well, that's such a silly, loss of resource, this should be a standard teaching executive function should be the norm, but we're only teaching if they're deficient. And And so yeah, you're absolutely right, that we cannot think in lopsided ways. Yeah, continue. 

Horacio Sanchez: Yeah, I think I, I'm starting to also think about resource issues. It's not lack of resource as much as we think in relation to schools. It is where we put our resources. And, you know, one of the things you met me mentioned earlier was this whole issue of how we prepare teachers for things, we forget how the brain works. So if I were to teach you something new, and I tell you go do it, the minute things get difficult, or I get busy, or things get stressful, the brain wants us to go back to the patterns that we've done the most out of the most comfortable with. So we train a bunch of teachers for an intense one or two weeks, and then we say, go on and do it. And then when crap hits, the fan, teachers go back to what they're always doing. And we just go, oh, they're resistant, we need to rethink how we're training teachers, we need to have training that says, Okay, I know, through the transition, it's going to be difficult. So I need to set up times when you're supported, reminded and just set times where you practice new skills, till you get to the place where you're comfortable with it, and you get to the place where you're good with it. And then once that happens, you'll do by yourself. But we have to help you through this piece, because we have to understand that that's not how the brain works. The other thing we have to stop doing is having teachers try to do six new things at the same time, the brain can do that, the brain content to one really brand new thing, because it takes so much more energy to engage in a new task, that it's tiring. So you don't want teachers to do all new things all the time. It doesn't work. So I think we have to just rethink the model. And we have to rethink coaching. Coaching should not be someone coming in here and going rah rah, coaching should be someone coming in there and going with you and showing you how it's done. Modeling it for you, practicing it with you and getting you through it to the part where you're it's mentorship is what we really need for schools in poverty, where teachers feel like, Oh, I see it being done, I know what to do. I feel good about it. I have nobody talking to me, I'm not being just giving a book, completely different approach. Teachers supported differently in schools that are concentrated poverty, students supported differently. And there you have a chance because if you don't support the adults, the adults teach the kids. If you don't get them feeling good about what they're doing, you don't have a shot, and then getting the kids to be encouraged and feeling like they can do it. And I think there is a lot to teaching belief structures. We need to start helping kids understand and view the world differently. I'm big proponent of that. I believe that regardless of your circumstance, if you learn very quickly to start to think about the what can change, how we can make it out of it start to understand that our brains are actually built to overcome obstacles. And most people encounter a crisis or a trauma, and they're back to homeostasis in three months. That is our DNA. If we embrace our DNA and help people to start looking at what we can overcome, and that we have a built in us and our perspective can change regardless of circumstance. We have a lot within us to change our perspective. And I'm a proponent of that. I'm a believer of that. And I think that is one of the things that kept me sane all my life.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, I think the great I think, you know, the PD, the professional development just, you know, reminds me that I think America spends what $18 to $20 billion a year for professional development And the studies show that only nine out of like close to 1400 studies have done, or whether these, you know, the professional training that they receive, is it impacting on student achievement. And the reason the numbers are so low is primarily because as you just mentioned, all the factors, but the teachers are asked to impact the teaching without experience of how to, they have understood it by hearing. And, you know, tying it back to executive function executive function is not knowing it's doing what you know. So doing what you know, is a motor practice, it's doing practice, it's running into some glitches as you do. And another thing it reminds reminded me your talk is Elizabeth Green was on my podcast, and she's, you know, the founder of Chalkbeat. But she wrote about, you know, what makes a great teachers, and she compared training in Japan versus America, you know, in Japan, the teachers are in front of the students only 600 hours, or 1000 hours and America, teachers are in front of the students, 1000 hours. So the 400 hours, the teachers are with the teachers, and they are discussing and learning and saying, hey, what is the best way to teach, and one of the examples that she she witnessed, which is so funny that you said this, that the teachers workshopped whether subtracting 13 I mean, seven out of 13 is a better mathematical concept teaching, or are subtracting six out of 13. And the reason is like counting by fives, you know, something, that kind of profound level of analysis is what our teachers would, are, like, longing for, because that will actually go into your, you know, white matter, your habits, your your routines, it becomes automated. 

Horacio Sanchez: And by them experiencing it, there's a higher probability that they'll do it because that is an experiential approach to the space. And if you started to think about the process you want this teachers to do with the students, which is seeing it done. It's amazing to me how I go into classes, where teachers are doing things, but still not understanding that. Students need to see how you do it. And I that's why I spent a whole chapter talking about things like teachers need to talk when they have go through a process, talk aloud what the process was, because you're assuming the kid understands the process. He like, here's what I'm doing. This is how I did. This is why I got to hear this where I did this. And then when you have the kids practice, have them practice the same thing, then they understand the process of thinking. And it it requires someone modeling for them over a period of time. And then after a while the kid will be able to do for themselves. But we make a lot of assumptions, because a lot of kids come to us with some of these things in place. But they didn't get those things magically, they got those things someplace. And here's a story that I always find interesting. I was in California, in a district that does extremely well, and they haven't high Asian population. And when I was being driven around by the superintendent, and I said, What are all these little programs? And these are, those are after school programs. And I'm like, you guys, you run those? He says no, those are all private. He said, but they're they're almost 100% Asian. And I'm like, Okay, can we go visit when he says Sure. And I go into these programs is supposed to be this advanced educational programs. And guess what they're doing in all those programs. They're repeating things that need to be learned for all the kids and the kids are drilling all this stuff, because it needs to be done someplace and the parents are too busy to do it. But the parents know it has to be done. And these are the most advanced students in the district. But they're getting it someplace. And I think the issues with poverty is the parents are so overwhelmed and they know you sometimes have the capacity and the kids aren't getting it someplace because we no longer do repetition in school. We no longer do any kind of drilling we don't even teach kids how to memorize remember the days when I know valuable oil white matter but automated, automated Yeah, technology has actually hurt our ability to memorize right now. So we have the lowest ability to memorize without kids even learning how to memorize bills, a lot of sense. It's funny.

Sucheta Kamath: I know I know before it if I can just quickly comment on this teacher talking out loud. When I read the chapter it reminded me you know as a speech language pathologists are One on One, like one on one strategy for child language development for, you know, babies or little kids who are delayed showing delay is called self talk and parallel talk. So these are two mechanisms self talk, is you talk about things you're doing. I'm opening a cup, now I'm taking the straw out, I am sprinkling some water and cleaning up and putting it back. So this is a describing your thinking about your actions. And then parallel talk is you say, Oh, look, Johnny just crawled towards a pillow. Oh, he's climbing the pillow. But he toppled Oh, he rolled down. So that's called, you know, parallel talk. And when I read that, it's like literally demonstrating to a 13 year old, a mathematical procedure is actually making a kid stand there and doing a parallel talk. Oh, so he carried over one brought it down. And then he multiplied Wait, and then he, oh, I think the multiplication is wrong. So now, what you're doing is you're really doing the translation of thinking that he should have been doing. And these are such valuable, simple to me, the sound very simple ratio, don't get me wrong, because they were part of our common sensical knowledge. And as you, you know, your book just reminded us that we have gotten away under the stress of living a very complex life, where the pressure to earn pressure to be somebody pressure to not be that is really taking us taking a toll on us as a society. So you talk a lot about culture, can you quickly as we and talk about what role does culture play in this, like, what values we share with our children? Or what we bring to the forefront of our teaching?

Horacio Sanchez: Don't talk to me about culture because I am on the outskirts of the culture conversation? I try? Well, I Well, let me explain that. I put some stuff on the board for lots of folks and said, here's what culture is the true definition of culture. And then I tried to show folks, they showed themselves that a lot of the things that we claim as culture have nothing to do with culture. And that many people in America, many groups are absent from culture. That's not just what I'm not talking about Native Americans, or blacks who were ripped from culture. And that's a common understanding, I'm talking about almost everyone is ripped from culture, because the things they're traditionally aspects of culture are not consistently there. I think when we say culture in America, we often saying culturally, things we think are part of culture or things we want to be part of culture things, we misunderstand to be part of culture. So it's hard for me to say what culture is. And I think the misunderstanding of culture and by labeling things that are not culture culture, we have we have created this big confusion. And and please tell me, can you define to me what black culture is? Please, because the black in culture should not even be together as a concept of cultures. Color is not part of culture. And so you know, if you know, people say things like Southern culture, what exactly are they talking? Are you talking biscuits? Or are they talking? abusing certain group of people? You tell me what you're talking about? Is it? Is it this flag? Or is it is it is it really tries to get you? Are you really talking about is that really culture? The fact that you have a truck? Is that really cool? Come on, think about that. I mean, we're

Sucheta Kamath: It's picking on some highlighting things to just group people together with random characteristics.

Horacio Sanchez: Yes. Now, if you really want to talk about culture, I think think the outcome of culture, the outcome of culture says, We move a group of people forward, and the culture carries us. If you stop culture, you basically stop the movement. Let me explain. Hmm, I've been a person from China in a training recently, and because of talking to him in our conversations about culture, I started doing some research on China and culture. And historically, one of the things that happened in China was when a new monarch came in Emperor came into control. He wiped out everything from the past. King, every piece of literature, every advancement every couldn't even say his name, everything just wiped out. And then there they were, that move them back the whole empire and then this person starts again, the next person comes in, and he wipes out everything else again. So the story goes like this, it's like it just gets you there of culture. So a missionaries come 1000 year laters to China, and they show them a clock. And the peasants go, oh, and unaware of the fact that the technology for the clock was actually developed in China 1000 years ago, and take it to Europe. Because people are so disconnected from their own culture. And so I struggle with the concept of culture, I mean, in most places where you can actually define culture, there seems to be a level of isolation. And, and, and it seems to be a level of, of collectivist society, because you've protected, but the minute you lose certain things, you end up with what you hold on, related to culture, absent of culture, and, and the sad thing is right now, I don't like getting into the culture talk, because people want to tell me, this is culture, this is a culture. And I want to sad things I know is that there are people who defend strict or things like spanking as part of culture. Hmm, I see, those are the things that you see that I'm bothered by that, but yeah, yeah, they will they truly believe that. And they think that people who talk against that are talking against their culture? Is it really part of culture? is a part of your socio economic situation? Is is the fact that this is in your diet part of your culture? Or is it out of the fact that you had no access to any other kinds of foods? So now you carry down a bad dietary tradition? Because you were exposed to bad diet initially, and you made the best out of that bad diet? So you made some really great food out of that bad diet? But do you really want to take that on as your culture? And so I'm confused? And I'm sorry, I'm confused. No, no, I understand. And think about this. Think about someone who comes into this country, and they have strong culture. One generation, two generations, tell me what happens by the third generation. It let's say it's a culture that does arranged marriages, bedding by third coach or the person who is going screw that I'm free. Free, I want to make my own decisions. Because it is no longer this. It's so in America, it's very difficult to do this. We just don't have it. And people think they have it tend to be the the most isolated individuals and earth. And they tend to have socio economic situations that are governing that. And many of the things that they define as culture are poverty. And poverty is not a culture. Last time I checked. Poverty is a condition situation. Yeah. And so condition is not a culture. Yeah, yeah. So the second language doesn't have certain elements that are common whenever are we always should we embrace that as culture? 

Sucheta Kamath: You know, that's so profound. Because I do you see good faith effort people making to teach poor children culture? Because as if it is, because you're poverty, you're poor, you have no culture.  I've had Michele Gelfand on my show. And she's a sociologist, and she's written a book on tight and loose cultures. So based mainly the beginning, the way she frames that, of course, is she talks about the norms, what is considered the norm, and then the culture is that requiring everybody this invisible set of parameters, which sets and it's expecting people to behave, to align themselves with the norm. And so, so I think, if if we are thinking from poverty and creating a culture, I do see creating a norm were having a belief that everybody has the capacity to be resilient. Everybody has the capacity to grow and develop skills to overcome adversities and everybody can be taught skills is that a good way to describe a way to compensate For the the setbacks that the children are experiencing because of poverty,

Horacio Sanchez: I think that's a great idea. But please don't call it culture. You are the problem.

Sucheta Kamath: It's interesting, because, you know, like the the Chicago school readiness program, they talk about, you know, training and coaching teachers do. And maybe this is a better word, you know, like a two in mental health so that they improve the emotional climate of the classrooms. So not a culture. So culture, to me in that context is the climate in which the children are expected to behave or form and participate.

Horacio Sanchez: You're teaching people how to how to think how to reframe things, to, to view things, to instill beliefs, that has to do with, you know, the climate and and what you're going to do within that climate structure. Yes. But I think we were we have, we had so many setbacks on the issue of culture, because people started labeling everything as culture, and everyone just bought it. And in my situation, should not be labeled as culture, if I'm poor. being poor is not a culture, being poor is being poor circumstances.

Sucheta Kamath: I agree with you. No, I really, really, really agree with you. Because I think that distinction can be lost on people. And and there may be pseudo effort, good faith effort, but pseudo it's a ill fated effort to normalize behaviors, as if they are signifying, yeah, children's progress, and that's them.

Horacio Sanchez: And we embrace the ones we like, and we get pissed off about the ones we don't like to shake.

Sucheta Kamath: I 100% agree. So Horacio, I can talk to you for hours. And I really, really appreciate how much time you have given us as we close this episode. Do you have any favorite books that you will? Can you share them with our listeners?

Horacio Sanchez: Oh, gee, I'm not a person to ask this question to either. I've had different books that actually done things to me at different points in my life. And, and and they resonated for different reasons. Let me give you an example. When I was in high school, I read Tally's Corner, hmm. And Tally's Corner is a sociology book, by the way, and it talks about what happened to the black male with through social policy of social welfare, which basically drove black males out of the home, because they had to hide from the social worker to make sure the man was in there. So social welfare checks could go to the women. And it created a very different impression of what it meant to be a father in in the communities, especially when unemployment was so pervasive. So that resonated with me because of what I was living through. So I all the books that I've ever liked, where we're at the moment I read them, and they did something for me because of where I was at. I actually learned a lot from Greek mythology and and i resonated Greek mythology, because life in poverty was so tragic. tragedies were great for me, because I grew up with rout tragedy. Wonderful stuff. So So books I books for me are very different than everybody else and right now, I'll be honest with you, I read journals, research, that's all I read. No, I listen to books for fun, and I do I do listen to a lot of books for fun, but all my all my reading I've looked at the last 10 years and almost everything I've read has been related to research in relation to the brain. How sad am I?

Sucheta Kamath: You and I brothers and sisters like we are brain nerds I think it's pretty telling story for because I was looking at somebody recently asked me you read a lot Do you have a recommendation and boom, boom, boom, and they were all nonfiction. So then this friend said Do you ever read nonfiction? I said, Oh wow. As a child, I read a lot of nonfiction. So I have to deliberately add something that's a nonfiction it's very painful.

Horacio Sanchez: Oh, you do nonfiction books for work out? I have a lot of nonfiction authors. A lot of fiction authors that I like and I when I do my workouts, I listen to books when I travel, and I Stop reading. I listened to books for a break. I don't really want to I don't I watch sports but I basically I don't watch a lot of television. So listening to a book is a good break for me. That's not that's not a brain book. So I'm not having to work so hard.

Sucheta Kamath: On on this national this podcast where reaches 90 countries you just declared your nerd Sorry.

Horacio Sanchez: I'm a proud nerd. Yes.

Sucheta Kamath: Good company. I was actually going to quickly look through my collection here. What is my latest nonfiction that I just read? And, oh, it's actually I let read one of the most fabulous books by Eve Ensler, The Apology, but that's not a fiction. It is a fiction. But it's a it's a letter in preparing, preparing for forgiveness, a conversation with another researcher. So, yeah, I have to read something and the other minds, stories about Octopus Minds. That's what I read for pleasure. Okay. Well, folks, that's all the time we have. And as you can see, these are important conversations we are having with incredibly passionate and knowledgeable experts like Horacio, with unique perspective on executive function, the developing brain and poverty, a very important topic that we all as citizens of this country should take interest in. One in six children if they live in poverty, it is our obligation as adults, to be the shepherd of their future, and their safety of them becoming all that they can become that these roadblocks are incredible for them to overcome by themselves. And here's what you can do you if you love what you're hearing, do share the episode with your family and friends and colleagues. If you have a moment, leave us a review. And finally, do subscribe to Full PreFrontal podcast and use your favorite listening app so that you can never miss an episode. Until then, see you later. Bye