Class Warfare Blog

September 12, 2013

Attack on the Mechanism of Upward Mobility

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?



  1. Nice piece Stephen

    “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.”

    How so very true and odd that you mention this now because i just began putting a post together that essentially speaks philosophically about this.


    Comment by lbwoodgate — September 12, 2013 @ 9:56 am | Reply

    • I will read it with great interest as I do all of your posts. My point, of course, is how education is a way “up” for the poor and downtrodden with “up” defined as “a bit” or “spme” not a rocket trip to celebrityhood. And the data show that it was working, so why this attack and why now? Is it because the reality blind have to believe that public schools must be failing because they aren’t doing what they know will work, so they must be wrong and covering up their failure? That’s what it looks like because test scores are up (when not rigged), graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down, but our schools are failing!!!


      Comment by stephenpruis — September 12, 2013 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

  2. A tad off topic, but a fellow blogger has found one libertarians solution to abortion AND upward mobility. To quote:

    “…who exactly will be dying that didn’t die before? Not randomly selected babies whose individual merit is impossible to know. They’re now allowed to live. They’re given a chance (it might be a very small chance, given their unfavorable starting conditions, but it’s a chance nonetheless) to become productive members of society. No, now the only individuals dying are those who have already been given a chance, and have proven themselves to be a “burden to society.” The selection is no longer random or arbitrary. Those who cannot be productive enough to feed themselves will starve. Those who rely upon force to obtain their food from others will be killed in the name of justice.”

    It baffles the brain, but here’s the link to her excellent blog (bodycrimes) which has the link to the said blogger who made this remark.


    Comment by john zande — September 12, 2013 @ 10:07 am | Reply

    • Basically this is why anti-abortionists belive so strongly in capital punishment.


      Comment by stephenpruis — September 12, 2013 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  3. I don’t think Gates foundation is meant to turn people into obedient drones to make more money for the corporations. At least Gates is clearly not interested in making money – if he were, he’d stay on at MicroSoft. No, I think, as you wrote earlier, it’s the case of people thinking that they can save the day, and having plenty of money to implement their ideas. But you know what they say about good intentions.


    Comment by List of X — September 16, 2013 @ 11:30 pm | Reply

    • One must ask about the motivation(s) of Mr. Gates. Is he just trying to do good? How is that good? So people could be better educated, so what? Is that just to make them happier? I think not. I tend to agree with your interpretation, but I still wonder if Mr. Gates has inspected his own motives.


      Comment by stephenpruis — September 17, 2013 @ 11:50 am | Reply

      • “Doing good” can be very subjective. What, say, Westboro Baptist Church or al Qaeda do is “doing good” by their own subjective definition, because their intent is to help other people by leading them to the proper god. (However perverse their methods might be). What Koch brothers or Mexican narcocartels do is not “doing good”, because their goals is to fatten their own wallets, and not to improve the welfare of others. Because Gates doesn’t personally benefit – just the opposite – from his foundation, what he does is probably a case of a misguided “doing good”.


        Comment by List of X — September 17, 2013 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

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