With a title like this I need a cover like were on the lurid pulp magazines of the 30’s and 40’s but instead I refer to recent research shows the U.S. falling way behind in what we call upward mobility, an aspect of ‘the American Dream” which basically is that you do not have to be somebody to become somebody. We are moving farther away from that dream: children of people who are poor are very likely to stay that way. Children of people who are rich, are also likely to stay that way. Wealth is accumulated by the few and is not being spent to elevate the many (e.g. the wealthy bribe officials to lower their taxes and then make sure poor people don’t have food stamps so they can spend more time making enough money to be able to eat).
So how is it that this country has so many self-made persons to hold up as icons? People who transcended their circumstances, like Oprah or Jay-Z. The answer is simple, there are 300+ million of us. Just how many rags-to-riches stories should there be?
Let me appeal to a sports metaphor. As an athlete in school, I dreamed of becoming a professional ball player, actually I knew it was a fantasy, but many of my cohort seemed to think it was a reasonable goal (one of my cohort did make to the NBA and was on a championship team, two others had short stints as professional football players of no acclaim). But the odds are astronomically against making it big. I am not focussing on the people who do make it. Somebody has to make it to the NBA, the NFL, to MLB and also win the various lotteries, but the odds for any one person are very, very long, so, young basketball players are urged to get an education while they had the opportunity provided by a scholarship to play a sport. For the hundreds of spots available in professional sports, there are more thousands of young people trying for them. Most don’t “make it” or even come close to making it.
Consequently, while sports figures and entrepreneurs make for great stories they are not examples of major conveyer belts to higher socioeconomic status.
Then what is?
Primarily it is education.
And please don’t bring up Bill Gates as a counter example. Bill Gates had the finest education money could buy but he rejected it because the field he was interested in (microcomputers) hadn’t advanced to the point of becoming an academic subject. A more rational example is me. Both of my parents had limited educational opportunities. My mother finished high school, my father did not. He had to go to work when his father abandoned his family. Both worked hard and raise three kids, all of whom were expected to do well in school. A constant thread of conversation around the dinner table as I was a child was “What did you learn in school today?” I was the youngest of the kids but became the first person of my immediate family to attend college (an opportunity affordable because of community colleges). I then went to a state college to get a B.S. degree and another state college to get an M.S. degree and then taught college chemistry for 35 years. As my mother said “My son, the Professor!”
Education is the primary conveyor to a better life because the skills needed can be acquired, the most important are how to learn (how to read, how to interpret numbers, how to compare, how to argue, etc.). These skills are so important that now a high school diploma is a prerequisite for most skilled jobs, if not a college degree. Just fifty years ago this was not the case.
Which brings us to the current time in which public education is under attack by philanthrocapitalists who believe the mechanisms of business will solve whatever ails our education system. This is despite any evidence that there will be a positive effect and in spite of the evidence that says just the opposite will occur. Education is a collaborative effort (students work along with teachers, teachers work with one another, politicians work with school officials, etc.) and business is a competitive effort. How anyone could think they go together is somewhat bizarre, but the philanthrocapitalists have a great deal of money to support their views and money buys politicians so they are currently holding sway . . . and riding roughshod over our public schools leaving chaos in their wake (poor outcomes, cheating scandals, public finds being siphon off from education to provide profits, etc.).
So upward mobility is declining so we do what? Oh, I see, we take the opportunity to wage an all-out corporate takeover of public education. Now these are the same rich people, the 0.1% , that have rigged our politics to give them control of the money and “the game.” Do you think they are trying to remake our public schools to restore the upward mobility that public education provides or are they, instead, recreating it to provide drones who will work in their factories with no complaint and who will settle for their lot in life.
Which of these makes better sense to you?