Monday, October 27, 2014

Income Inequality ... Good or Bad? ... Hard Work and Knowledge are the Keys to Prosperity ... When Will We Put Pygmalion in the Educational Game?

We hear lots of noise about the evils associated with individual income inequality this election season.

At the same time, we recognize the virtues of hard work, achievement and talent associated with the unequal performance, job insecurity and compensation of professional athletes.

Essentially both are a result of the same underlying factors. As unique individuals, we aren't equal, even if our opportunities are equal.

Thus, equal outcomes will never be the result in a free competition based society, and it's not in anybody's long term best interests for it to be otherwise. The keys are hard work, education, knowledge, the habit of improvement, and perseverance. At least that's my take.

And I believe that from my head to my toes because of the values instilled in me by my parents long ago. Both were hard working, hourly paid individuals, and wanted the best for their kids. They sacrificed to make sure my older brother and I understood the value of a dollar, hard work and the value of a college education. Dad graduated from high school and Mom had to stop attending school in 10th grade. They taught us we could do anything if we worked hard enough and not to be discouraged when confronting life's many inevitable troubles and obstacles along the way.

{NOTE: After high school my older brother and I both graduated from college and went on to earn graduate degrees as well. As the smarter (harder worker too?) of the two of us and a math major, he earned a Phi Beta Kappa key along the way. I graduated from law school, and we both enjoyed successful careers before retiring.}

A childhood friend recently shared the following thought provoking and timeless quote by Abraham Lincoln:

"You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence.
You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves."

The American Dream Is Leaving America says this about what's happened to American education:

"THE best escalator to opportunity in America is education. But a new study underscores that the escalator is broken.
We expect each generation to do better, but, currently, more young American men have less education (29 percent) than their parents than have more education (20 percent). Among young Americans whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, only 5 percent make it through college themselves. In other rich countries, the figure is 23 percent. . . .
These figures come from the annual survey of education from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., and it should be a shock to Americans. A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility. But the American dream seems to have emigrated because many countries do better than the United States in educational mobility, according to the O.E.C.D. study.

As recently as 2000, the United States still ranked second in the share of the population with a college degree. Now we have dropped to fifth. Among 25-to-34-year-olds — a glimpse of how we will rank in the future — we rank 12th, while once-impoverished South Korea tops the list.
A new Pew survey finds that Americans consider the greatest threat to our country to be the growing gap between the rich and poor. Yet we have constructed an education system, dependent on local property taxes, that provides great schools for the rich kids in the suburbs who need the least help, and broken, dangerous schools for inner-city children who desperately need a helping hand. Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality. . . .

Until the 1970s, we were pre-eminent in mass education, and Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University argue powerfully that this was the secret to America’s economic rise. Then we blew it, and the latest O.E.C.D. report underscores how the rest of the world is eclipsing us. . . .

In some quarters, there’s a perception that American teachers are lazy. But the O.E.C.D. report indicates that American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad. Yet American teachers earn 68 percent as much as the average American college-educated worker, while the O.E.C.D. average is 88 percent.
Fixing the education system is the civil rights challenge of our era. A starting point is to embrace an ethos that was born in America but is now an expatriate: that we owe all children a fair start in life in the form of access to an education escalator.
Let’s fix the escalator." 
Summing Up

By all means, let's fix the escalator.
We must renew our commitment to equal educational opportunity for all Americans.

My view is that if our parents, friends and teachers expect and demand the best from us, then we'll be likely to do our best. That's the 'Pygmalion in the classroom effect' which means that the higher the expectations, the greater will be our performance.
But how to do it --- Better pay for the good teachers and weeding out the bad ones? Vouchers?  Charter schools? Flipped classrooms? Distance Learning? Home schooling? Recognizing academic and athletic accomplishments in the same way?

Why not? Let's allow incentives, Pygmalion expectations and the free market to get in the game. We need a new playbook.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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