Friday, May 6, 2011

The Haves and The Have Nots

We frequently hear the refrain that the distance is growing between the haves and the have nots, that the income gap is widening, that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.  One word can sum up my response.  "Duh."  Yes, the rich get richer.  The poor often do not get that much poorer, however the growth of income for the poor is far far lower than it is for the rich.  That has more relation to the power of money to attract money and the ability to risk more to earn more.  Not my topic.

No, what I want to discuss is a topic that has been near to my heart since I was a child.  The ability to break the cycle, to grow out of your caste and why it's so rare that this happens.  Part of the discussion is psychology and as this is not my forte, I will leave it to my own experiences.  The rest revolves around our education system and ideas to improve.

First, if you haven't seen "Waiting for Superman," I highly encourage you to do so.

It is clear to me that for the vast majority of people, a decent education opens the doors to a greater chance for success in life.  In too many of our school districts, that is hard to come by.  For many others, regardless of the quality of the education offered to them, there is no drive to achieve.  Instead we find an indifference towards self-improvement that is quite honestly, appalling to me.  Most of that starts in the home.  There was never a question of whether or not I would finish high school or go to college.  It was ASSUMED.  My family was not rich, in fact, we were not even upper middle class.  My parents couldnt' afford to pay college tuition out of pocket.  Still, there was no question.  In other homes, there is a hope to finish high school and go to college, and I think that the children in those home benefit from that desire, be it their own or their parents.  Yet, in too many homes in this country there is no desire, no hope, no expectation.

Education starts at home, or so the saying goes.  This may very well be true, but if we are to turn this tide, shift this imbalance and get our whole nation up to an educational minimum standard that we can, as a society, accept, then we have to act in a way that we can.  We can't overturn years of inertia in the home.  Maybe we can do it in schools.

Last year, due to teacher layoffs, Indiana fired it's current Teacher of the Year.  Obviously this young teacher had not performed poorly.  No, the problem was that she was too new.  The older teachers, protected by tenure and a policy of last in, first out were exempted from the layoffs.  This is just one illustration among many across the country.  Other problems persist as well.  Poor students are trapped in underperforming schools or school districts due to their geography.  Schools in poor neighborhoods are often more dangerous, exposed to drug dealings and violent crimes.  Good teachers don't want to teach in many schools due to threats, vandalism, and lower pay. 

So, what are some answers?  I don't know.  What I do know is that politicians have thrown dollar after dollar at the issue for years, with no discernible result.  Spending per student has risen at greater than the rate of inflation for more than 30 years, while performance compared to the rest of the industrialized world has slid.  If money is not the answer, what is?  Personally, I think it's freedom and empowerment and a healthy dose of good old fashion market competition. 

Chew on that and we'll discuss this in greater length next week.

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