Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Condescension, Prognostication & The Educational Gap

via Forbes.com:
He’s right. The spread between rich and poor has gotten wider over the decades. And the opportunities for the 99% have become harder to realize.

The President’s speech got me thinking. My kids are no smarter than similar kids their age from the inner city. My kids have it much easier than their counterparts from West Philadelphia. The world is not fair to those kids mainly because they had the misfortune of being born two miles away into a more difficult part of the world and with a skin color that makes realizing the opportunities that the President spoke about that much harder. This is a fact. In 2011.

I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.
*gets in time machine and goes back to 2008*

Oh, snap!!! Obama's the President of the United States!! You know what that means! We live in a post-racial society! Race doesn't exist anymore. A charismatic, smart, half-Kenyan man from Hawaii can ascend to the top of the political world, so that means that every minority should be able to do comparably!

*gets back in time machine and goes to present-day*

Oh, wait... Educational gaps are still tremendous. Poverty is still rampant. Employment is sparse. But Obama's President, so none of that matters.

Such is the society we live in today... A society where the haves continually look down on the have-nots... A society where even in the face of mounting evidence that the system is no more fairly skewed that the lottery, people continue to cry 'self-determination'... A society where a man with admittedly no knowledge of growing up poor feels compelled to cast judgment on the poor. While I am no urban sociologist, I've seen enough of the ills of urban sprawl to know that the odds do not favor children in the inner city. From dilapidated and underfunded schools, to a lack of a successful network supporting them, is it really that hard to see why poor black children gravitate towards endeavors far-removed from academia?

The author, a 'mediocre accountant' and owner of a 10-person accounting firm, is engaging in what I like to call condescendent prognostication - the use of one's lofty ideals to scrutinize the actions of and portend the paths of those in a more precarious situation than he. He claims to be a supporter of Obama and the 99%, but is essentially echoing the unfounded sentiments of the 1%, namely:
- If you're poor, underprivileged, or the like, it's your fault
- The government and related entities have no responsibility to help those who can't help themselves
- There are more than enough resources to help the underprivileged

The author gets even more haughty in his rhetoric:
President Obama was right in his speech last week. The division between rich and poor is a national problem. But the biggest challenge we face isn’t inequality. It’s ignorance. So many kids from West Philadelphia don’t even know these opportunities exist for them. Many come from single-parent families whose mom or dad (or in many cases their grand mom) is working two jobs to survive and are just (understandably) too plain tired to do anything else in the few short hours they’re home. Many have teachers who are overburdened and too stressed to find the time to help every kid that needs it. Many of these kids don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids. Except that my kids are just lucky enough to have parents and a well-funded school system around to push them in the right direction.

Technology can help these kids. But only if the kids want to be helped. Yes, there is much inequality. But the opportunity is still there in this country for those that are smart enough to go for it.
This type of grandstanding is only upended by the fact that the author says himself that his children have the resources (parents and good schools) to properly advance. When did complete hypocrisy and sociological blinders replace the social contract of Roosevelt's New Deal? When did the American tenet of every citizen's unalienable rights to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' fall victim to 'you're on your own social policy'? The problem here isn't the author's proclamation that the will to succeed doesn't go unnoticed. It's that he fails to fully acknowledge the crumbling systems around the same 'poor black kids'. Rather than addressing the systematic failures, he asserts that these children should aspire to be the best of the worst. How is that remotely inspiring? Even if an poor black kid in West Philadelphia does gain straight A's in a terrible school, chances are he will still be drastically behind his affluent counterparts across town.

The educational gap in this country is beyond detestable, not because kids don't want to learn, but because most people removed from the worst education systems in our country have little stake in it. They can point the finger and be condescending because they admittedly have never lived in conditions anywhere close to the ones they criticize. It's like a king pointing down at peasants, scoffing at the squalor they live in: easy. I beg the question to Mr. Marks and any other critic of 'poor black kids', what would you do to improve these schools, aside from claim that the kids need to try harder? What solution do you have for the dwindling quality of teachers, curricula, infrastructure and resources? What answer do you have for the student who have no clue what Google Scholar, SparkNotes, Evernote or the CIA World Factbook are? My guess is none.

That is the plight of the condescending prognosticator. They scream that if you're not winning the race, then you should run harder instead of blaming the busted soles on your sneakers. Maybe I'm rambling. Maybe undue outrage is coming towards the author for his clearly misinformed stance. The one thing I'm certain of is that there are many more Gene Marks' out there. They live anywhere from quiet, isolated suburban neighborhoods to high rise penthouses believe that self-determination is all one needs to be successful. For the amount of technological resources they espouse can help 'poor black kids', it would behoove them to use these same tools to see that the world isn't as cut and dry as they think.


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