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Sage Against The Machine.
Libertarian Humanist.

Comparing a Homeless Person To A Third Grader

February 8, 2021

I have been a substitute teacher for the last year or so.

I started in the Akron Public Schools. And now I'm at a private school.

I'm incredibly fortunate in my life right now to be able to experiment with different pursuits. For example, I have an interest in working at McDonald's at some point. I'd like to experience that. I'm also very interested in what it's like working at one of the Amazon warehouses.

I can't tell you exactly why I want to do these things. I can't quite put my finger on it. But I think it has something to do with understanding people. All people fascinate me. And I really love relating one group of people with another group of people.

So I think there was always an aspect of substituting that aimed at understanding young people. I'm also working on a school methodology called Demass Learning.

One curiosity I had was to see if I could find similarities in young people to homeless people. For example, is a homeless person living at a stunted form of development? Could I see similarities in a 10 year old in comparison to a homeless person?

This idea is particularly interesting in a Waldorf School (where I'm currently subbing).

Here is a statement about why the Old Testament is taught to third graders in Waldorf Schools.

"In the third grade the children no longer “swallow” the teacher’s words. They are more critical. “Who are you?” they ask. “Are you always correct? Will you always decide over me?” The threshold is not severe, but there is more distance, not only to the teacher but also to everyone else in the child’s life. A pseudo-estrangement occurs. The teacher becomes just one of the teachers and the parents become just people among other people."

"The continuous and underlying theme of the Old Testament is a similar estrangement, but it appears between people and God. The people in the Bible lived under the pressure of God who commanded strictly, “You shall and you shall not!” We are aware of an almighty, invisible power as God’s fingers write the universal laws!"

It's possible to expect to see similarities in thinking in homeless people as well.

In short, a homeless person is not a third grader.

A homeless person is clearly beyond Piaget's 4th and final Formal Operational stage of cognitive development that occurs at age 12 and up. "Teens begin to think more about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues that require theoretical and abstract reasoning. "

A homeless person, if nothing else, has highly constructed moral and ethical and philosophical ideas about the world in which they live.


Interestingly, in my experience, a homeless person is much more sharing than your average third grader.

If I were to give a pack of M&Ms to an average third grader I would expect to see a fair amount of hoarding. They might give a few pieces to a couple close friends. But they certainly wouldn't feel great about giving them all away.

On the other hand, if I give a pack of cigarettes to a homeless person you can expect that pack to be gone within minutes.

It's not that the homeless person is more altruistic than the third grader. They just live in a sharing community. That's the only way you can survive without money. This is a learned behavior.

Eye for an eye

I do see a similarity in the eye for an eye principle. Third graders seem to say "He started it!" just as much as homeless people do. But again, this is a learned trait of a homeless person. Act like a victim and you'll be a victim. Prison culture teaches this too.

I feel like being a third grader can be physically scary. If you are the target of a bully you are living in a very traumatic environment. This is very similar to being homeless. The only thing you can do, besides being abused, is to stand up and fight back. No matter how much an authority figure tells you to be nice and kind, they are not the one being perpetually attacked. This is very reminiscent of homelessness. No one calls the police to protect a third grader and no one calls the police to protect a homeless person.

Though a third grader's trauma may stick with them their entire lives, if they are from a wealthy family they will quickly learn that their money becomes a defensive weapon. They can move or sue or any other variety of things.

A homeless person has no defense like that. They are in an ocean of attack and brutality. They have no choice but to become hard and accepting. You have never met a stronger person than a single homeless woman.

A homeless person is not regressing or stalling out developmentally. They are adapting. We all develop in response to our environment. A homeless person is as developmentally advanced as any other adult human. They just have found that they need to develop in different ways for survival.

I would love to do a study of childhood trauma in the homeless population. My theory is that they have experienced far more trauma throughout their entire lives than the average American. This trauma is profoundly transformative.


Homeless people do opportunistic stealing far more than a typical third grader. Again, this has nothing to do with altruism or innate goodness in either group. Most third graders are afraid of the consequences of stealing. Most homeless people are afraid of the consequences of not stealing.

For some homeless people stealing becomes a career.

My instinct is that I would find more similarities in a hunter gathering society or a Romani society that is much more nomadic and itinerant than average.

My purpose in this is to open up the idea of understanding homeless people. We have done almost no research in the behaviors of homeless people. Thanks to people like Jane Goodall, we understand chimpanzees better than we do homeless people. This must change.

I simply cannot see how we are ever going to "solve" homelessness if we don't actually understand homeless people.

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