Growing up in a small South Dakota prairie town and with sparse financial means (my mother was left in significant debt after my father died), for me, equality-of-opportunity in education was not a major challenge.  (Regretfully, at that time, my friends and I were all ignorant of the education inequalities faced by African Americans and Native Americans.) 

We all believed that if you “worked hard” and applied yourself, all possibilities were open to us.

Well, that’s not as true in the American twenty-first century! 

Without doubt, money matters much more today.  Securing an equal opportunity-to-succeed with limited financial resources is far more difficult in 2018 than it was eight decades ago when I was first entering public school. 

Historically, the central focus for “equal opportunity” in America has always been its public school education.  And here, unfortunately, we are failing disastrously.

As way of overview I’ll quote from an OpEd piece in the NEW YORK TIMES, “The Great Divide: Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth” by Joseph E. Stiglitz:

“Perhaps a hundred years ago, America might have rightly claimed to have been the land of opportunity, or at least a land where there was more opportunity than elsewhere. But not for at least a quarter of a century. Horatio Alger-style rags-to-riches stories were not a deliberate hoax, but given how they’ve lulled us into a sense of complacency, they might as well have been.  .  .  .
.  .  .  After World War II, Europe made a major effort to democratize its education systems. We did, too .  .  .

But then we changed, in several ways. While racial segregation decreased, economic segregation increased. After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier, the Stanford sociologist Sean F. Reardon found.”

This equal opportunity in education myth shows up in some unexpected places, too.  (“Rural students need equal educational opportunity by Susan Assouline and Harold O. Levy, in the DES MOINES REGISTER) 

“Americans like to think of our nation as the land of opportunity, where any boy or girl can grow up to achieve great things. But, in reality, parental income and the neighborhood where children are raised are major factors in determining how far they go in school and their chances of finding good-paying and fulfilling jobs.

 No one’s future prospects should be determined by parentage or ZIP code.
 A 2014 White House report illustrates how wide the education gap is between the wealthy and the poor, stating: “While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just one in 10 people from low-income families do.” When a child of plenty has a five times greater chance of becoming a college graduate than a child of poverty, it’s hard to argue they have an equal shot at success.

 And the U.S. Census Bureau reported in December that while 29 percent of adults in urban areas have a bachelor’s degree, only 19.5 percent in rural areas do. About 60 million people, including 13.4 million children, live in rural areas. They deserve equal opportunity as well.
 The education gap dividing Americans by income and location is not just profoundly unfair, but a tremendous waste of talent.”

And while I am well aware that — sometimes — financial help is available for high schoolers who want to participate in the plethora of expensive after-school enrichment activities offered, many cannot afford to participate.  The result, once again, affirms the skewing of equal opportunity in the direction of the economically advantaged.

We must never forget that education and opportunities-for-learning are the bedrock of both freedom and democracy.  Balancing a budget on the backs of the poor will never prove to be a responsible (nor a democratic) solution.  America needs to do better than that!

Do you read me, Betsy DeVos?!?

More on Wednesday  –  –  –

     — Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning

     April 30, 2018

      www.itclearning.com/blog/  (Mondays & Wednesdays)

 (This is a personal blog.  Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner, jhbillwalton@gmail.com, an independent consultant.  They do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.)