Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Held Down & Held Back - But Not By Color

As we promised at the beginning of 2012, we haven't been myopically focused on the Presidential political horse race much so far this year, and we're not likely to start being super-concerned with it anytime soon. With the GOP candidates faring increasingly worse against a President and an economy that both appear to be continuing an upward climb, the news items that are catching and holding our attention have little to do with who's up and down this week in popularity polling.

No, the story that's got us in its grip has been developing over the last forty years in America, and it's a topic that only one 2012 Presidential candidate has addressed recently.

According to several recently released studies quoted in the New York Times and The Atlantic magazine this past week, the worst battle against inequality in America today isn't between blacks and whites, or any other two racial groups. It's about how America's kids are doing today - and what the economic status of their parents will do to help them out, or weigh them down, in the future.

According to the research, since 1940, the achievement gap in schools has narrowed considerably between white children and black children, while the gap between the wealthy and the poor has increased by 40 percent. Further, since 1980, the children of rich parents are almost 50 percent more likely to complete college than those with lesser financial means.

To put it another way, the oft-told myth of American economic mobility that lies at the heart of many political arguments today - especially those from the conservative right - has become just that: a myth.

American economic mobility is now FAR behind that of many other so-called "First World" nations. According to the most recent calculations, kids born in most of Western Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and even Pakistan have a better chance of moving up the economic ladder, and doing better than their parents than American kids do today.

We won't deny; some of the drag on economic mobility has to do with the failures of our current educational system - specifically teaching to tests, instead of teaching critical skills.

To that end, President Obama last Friday released ten states from the well-intended, but poorly implemented 'No Child Left Behind' statutes. Those states include Florida, Indiana, and Oklahoma, where we know some of our readers are intimately involved with both education and communications. Schools in these states will still be held to a set of academic standards agreed to by both the states and the Federal government, but the specific rules behind the 'No Child' law will no longer apply to them.

That's cold comfort to the children who've already started their school careers weighed down by the weight of their family's economic status.

We all agree that what the studies prove - that American children are less weighed down by their race than ever before - is fantastic news. Racism is still a long way from completely going away in America, but at least American children aren't being penalized against their future success as much by the color of their skin as they once were.

Sadly, those same studies show that even more kids are now being penalized due to the size of their parent's bank account when they're born. The worst part about it is that those penalties don't just get applied during the child's school years. The punishment of being born poor weighs people down for the rest of their lives - and decreased the overall success of America.

If Americans leave things the way they are now in our educational system, the extremists will continue to perpetuate the feudalistic lie that the children of the rich are better people, in large part because they were born rich. That idea is both sick and factually wrong.

Severe economic inequality and economic immobility need to be put back where they both belong: Deep-sixed to the Davy Jones' locker of history.

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