Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Role of Education, Graduation and Knowledge in Realizing The 'American Dream' .... As More Americans Work Hard to 'Live the Dream,' The Better and Stronger Our Land of Opportunity Will Be

We like to think of America as an egalitarian society where through hard work, sustained effort and education, anyone can climb from the bottom to the top of the ladder, or as is more likely the case, at least do better economically than prior generations have done. Living the American Dream today is still definitely doable, but it's not an automatic given.

And success takes both individual effort and the support of others. Many of us receive that needed support from our parents --- but some don't. That's where the need for a broader community effort comes into play.

{NOTE: Higher education is an important ingredient in the pursuit of material success, but the word education includes all legitimate credentials, however attained, including technical and community college degrees. In this regard, please refer to A Bachelor's Degree Isn't the Only Path to Good Pay which is subtitled 'Evidence shows that associate degrees and specialized-training certificates can also lift workers into the middle class.'}

In any event, economic mobility and the opportunity to make our own road makes up American Exceptionalism. Striving for economic success, however we choose to define that term, definitely plays a big role in reaching for the 'American Dream.' And whatever we choose to do or try to do, the goal of 'reaching for that which currently exceeds our grasp' is definitely worth pursuing with conviction.

But if we're truthful about what it takes to reach this often elusive 'American Dream,' it's necessary to acknowledge that it's simply not as easy for some to climb the ladder of opportunity as it is for others. The American dream of equal opportunity isn't ever really an equal one in fact. Opportunity is never perfectly equal, and this inevitable condition of inequality starts at birth and continues uninterrupted throughout our lives. But our opportunities as Americans are less unequal here than any other place on earth, and that's good enough for me. I suspect it's good enough for you as well.

Those who are fortunate enough to grow up as part of an intact family with educated parents and a healthy financial situation have a clear head start in life. While that shouldn't surprise anybody, a new study sheds meaningful light on how difficult it is for the poor to succeed in America compared to the middle class.

Why the American Dream is Unraveling relates the story of the plight of the poor compared to the inherent advantages of growing up in middle class America:

"In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the young protagonist gripes about his adoptive mother’s efforts to “sivilize” him — particularly at the dinner table, where he observes that each dish is cooked and served separately.

“In a barrel of odds and ends it is different;” Finn says. “Things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.”

I thought about that line while reading Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids,” a jarring study of the growing opportunity gap between rich and poor children. America would like to think of itself as Huck’s “barrel of odds and ends,” a kind of democratic stew. But, as Putnam shows, our society is increasingly more like his adopted mother’s meal, with each dish cooked separately and cordoned off into different compartments on the dinner plate.

The upper-middle-class families Putnam profiles separate themselves into affluent suburbs, with separate public schools and social spheres from those of their poorer counterparts. As a result, the poorer children not only face greater hardships, but they also lack good models of what is possible. They are effectively cut off from opportunity.

“The most important thing about the experience of being young and poor in America is that these kids are really isolated, and really don’t have close ties with anybody,” Putnam [said}. “They are completely clueless about the kinds of skills and savvy and connections needed to get ahead.”

His analysis shows how family structure, parenting practices, schooling and health habits correlate with diminishing opportunities for poorer children.
For instance:

Children of poorer, less educated parents are far more likely to grow up in single-parent homes.
Educated, wealthier parents are able to devote considerably more time to childcare.
Putnam does not fault the wealthier parents for seeking the best for their children. “Perhaps unexpectedly, this is a book without upper-class villains,” he notes.

But he makes the case that it’s not only in the moral interest of wealthier families to help improve the prospects of poorer children but also in their own economic interest. The U.S. economy would get a major boost if the opportunity gap were closed, he says. We cannot continue to live in our own bubbles, or compartments on a plate, without consequences, he suggests.

“What I hope people take away is that helping poor kids, giving them more skills and more support would economically benefit their kids,” Putnam said."

Summing Up

Many of us grew up in families where our parents hadn't attended college. They worked hard and sacrificed in order that we could have the opportunities they never had. For us to achieve a solid education and start in life was often their 'dream.'

In other words, many of our parents 'encouraged' us to do what they had not been able to do --- get a good education by going to and graduating from college. 

So it's never acceptable for us as individuals to claim that we can't do that which our parents were unable to do. In fact, we're always supposed to do what they weren't able to do. That's a vital ingredient of living the 'dream.'

The American opportunity for living a 'good life' and achieving upward economic mobility is real. But exercising that choice and making the required effort in order that 'our reach can exceed our grasp' is for each of us to decide.

Still, those of us who have been fortunate would be well advised to offer a helping hand to those who follow --- and especially the less fortunate among us. Taking the time to 'look back' and lend a helping hand is also an important part of being an American.

We'll finish today's 'sermon' with three related questions.

(1) Since freedom of choice is also an integral part of the American way, when will we start allowing parents to use taxpayer supported vouchers so their kids can attend the schools of their choice? It won't cost today's taxpayers anything, and it would make a stronger and better America tomorrow.

(2) And while the teachers' unions and other defenders of the educational status quo won't like that idea, so what? Whose country is it, and don't We the People owe at least that much to today's kids and tomorrow's adults?

(3) Isn't it a national shame that we are not realizing better educational outcomes by not extending a helping hand to those who need one?

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

No comments:

Post a Comment