"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gerald Coles: Response to The growing education gap between the rich and poor"

Response to The growing education gap between the rich and poor"
Gerald Coles

Appeared on the listserv of the Rochester Coalition for Justice in Education. Posted with permission, OK to share with others.

A few comments on the recent NY Times article, "Education Gap Grows Between Rich & Poor, Studies Say."

While it was good to see the Times provide a summary of recent research on the growing education gap between rich and poor students, we have to ask, "what was the chief purpose of the article?" 

Given the "experts" quoted to explain the findings, it seems that the purpose of the article and its expert opinion are aimed at discouraging anyone from thinking that poor children's education would be helped by a redistribution of wealth, which would include the use of that redistribution to create end-of-poverty legislation.

Implicit in the "expert opinion" cited in the article is the assurance that while affluent families know how to use their income, time and privilege to nurture their children's minds and abilities, these advantages would be wasted in the hands of poor parents. 

The University of Chicago expert quoted, James J. Heckman, has built a prominent career trying to improve parenting skills and enrichment educational programs for poor children while leaving poor families and children poor, and the overall educational conditions of the children in an abysmal state.  Nonetheless, he warns us not go back to the time (whatever time that was!) when we thought that "poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that -- if they want to redistribute income -- that would be a mistake” (his heartfelt word in the Times article). 

This view is reinforced in the article by another expert, Charles Murray of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute.  Murray (co-author of the racist and classist book, The Bell Curve) has devoted his life to the claim that differences between the rich and poor are largely due to genetics, that is, the unequal inherited intelligence favoring the rich.  As Murray concluded in the Times article, income inequality is “more of a symptom than a cause” (that is, were Murray to speak frankly, the poor, in his view, are genetically dumber).  A great expert for the Times to quote!

The last expert cited is Douglas J. Besharov, also of the American Enterprise Institute, but listed in the article only as a "fellow of the Atlantic Council" which, the article fails to note, is a think tank servicing global corporations.  Besharov's aid to the rich, like that of the other two experts quoted, has included his opposition to government policies to end poverty because, in his informed view, the U.S. has no genuine poverty!  "Rhetoric about cutting 'poverty' is misleadingly outmoded," Besharov has intoned, because "almost all Americans already live far above subsistence poverty."  (Yes, he really wrote that.) 

The Times article leaves Besharov with the last word about the growing education gap between the rich and poor, a takeaway message meant to leave the reader scratching her or his head: "The problem is a puzzle. No one has the slightest idea what will work." 

Yes, there's an educational gap between rich and poor, but let no reader of the article think that any of the following, using a redistribution of wealth, would significantly end the achievement gap:

--Work that provides parents with a good income for raising a family.  That won't help!

--A workweek with reasonable hours that leave a parent time and energy to parent. Forget that!

--National health insurance for all, good housing for all, good nutrition for all, schools fully funded, free college for all, etc. etc. (you can finish the list that you think would serve to create an equitable society and translate into solid educational achievement for all youngsters).  Mistakes, mistakes!  The implementation of these ideas would be money down the drain.

At least that's what the 1% and their scholarly troops would like us to believe.

Gerry Coles   

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