In a recent article addressing the power of individuals P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education, Furman University, wrote: “Consider Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, George W. Bush, Bill Gates, and Mike Krzyzewski. What if these five men had lived in the early to mid 1800s? How would their lives have manifested themselves in that era? It is without a doubt that two of these men would have had quite different lives—and not because of their talents, character, or determination. Social norms are powerful and are primary when considering the individual talents of people.”
The Randites in the Republican Party seem to think that each person is entirely responsible for their own success and while no one argues that individuals aren’t to a large measure responsible, there are a lot of other circumstances. In general, people can only respond to the opportunities that are available to them. Making millions of dollars per year playing professional sports is not an option if there are no professional sports. making personal computer software to make millions is not an option if there are no personal computers.
Behind every successful person is a social structure, a physical infrastructure, and a culture. Too many people at the opportunity rich end of the spectrum extrapolate their experience to everyone. Ex-presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a classic example. He said he was a self-made man and nobody helped him on the way up (justifying his wealth). He apparently didn’t count the million dollar loan his father gave him. (I worked for almost 40 years and didn’t quite make two million dollars in toto.) “Poor” Mitt Romney is a person who thinks that a million dollars of seed money is no big thing, hardly worth mentioning.
Currently there are corporate educational “reformers” who are claiming that education is the cure for poverty because an education gets you a better job when means you will have more to eat. Their thinking doesn’t include the fact that poverty is the biggest barrier to getting an education in the first place. You see: they have never been poor.
Any personal success I or any other individual has achieve is not due to just my or their efforts. Major contributions were made by a great many other people.
And, if you realize this is true then you must ask yourself why it is we are wasting mountains of human capital by not extending more opportunities to the poor. They are only monetarily poor, they are not poor in spirit, nor are they poor in ability. If we offer them opportunities and they succeed, then they are in the position to offer such opportunities to another generation. Denying opportunities to the poor (Hey, gang, let’s cut food stamps!) doesn’t make you noble, it makes you short-sighted, mean, cruel and, well, assholes.