I ran across something interesting this morning trying that makes for a good controversial debate. Gene Marks wrote a Forbes column titled “If I Were a Poor Black Kid”. You can read the entire article here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2011/12/12/if-i-was-a-poor-black-kid/
I want to make some comments because I was a poor white, Jewish kid and I feel I have a right to argue certain facts that the very smart Mr. Marks has stated – that are not necessarily as factual as we take for granted.
“It takes brains. It takes hard work. It takes a little luck. And a little help from others. It takes the ability and the know-how to use the resources that are available…”
Again, I was not a poor, black kid, however, I can assume that it was only worse than my experience – and my experience was not great. You have to imagine that we are talking about children here – not adults that have had a life time worth of experiences that have the advantage of understanding retrospectively. In my case my parents worked hard and made sure I went to private school, however, I was the odd one out. I was the poor one. As a kid that doesn’t do much for your self esteem. I lived in a poor area, so I was too embarrassed to have friends over, which resulted in not many friends. I had brains, however, for some reason – which I definitely did not understand as a child, I was never given the same recognition as the other kids in my class. As a matter of fact, I have a clear memory of being in math class and we had to play a game for prizes. The game was whoever was able to convert percentages to decimals the fastest got points and whoever got the most points got a prize. I was always the first to be able to do it so my teacher made me be the one to tally the points. I did not receive a prize. As a child, I did not fully understand why I was left out of the contest. In fact, in my innocence I did not even take this as a punishment. I felt privileged to be the score taker. However, a few more years of the unfair advantage of the wealthy eventually defeated me. Hard work, help from others and finding resources don’t matter when your self esteem is shot.
“If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city. Even the worst have their best. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.”
Using the same logic as above, we have to realize that children only are aware of what they see. They have a limited amount of insight. To say something like they should get the best grades possible and make it a #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently or they will severely limit already limited opportunities is the same thing as saying – if they don’t do these things, too bad. I am sorry, but let’s be reasonable. How can we expect children to understand what is in store for them in the future as compared to others who live a completely different life than they are exposed to on a daily basis. This just seems so unconnected to the real world.
Also, can we ignore the fact that even if a few kids do get good grades despite their harsh circumstances, do they really have the same opportunities later on in life as the ones that have money already that enables them to buy additional opportunities for themselves….And – if you want to deny that this in fact does happen in the world that we live in, then I can’t even argue with you. You are simply not living in the same world that I do.
“In Philadelphia, there are nationally recognized magnet schools like Central, Girls High and Masterman. These schools are free. But they are hard to get in to. You need good grades and good test scores. And there are also other good magnet and charter schools in the city. You also need good grades to get into those. In a school system that is so broken these are bright spots. Getting into one of these schools opens up a world of opportunities. More than 90% of the kids that go to Central go on to college. I would use the internet to research each one of these schools so I could find out how I could be admitted. I would find out the names of the admissions people and go to meet with them. If I was a poor black kid I would make it my goal to get into one of these schools.
Or even a private school…..”
Really? A child is supposed to make sure that they go to a private school. Besides understanding from a very young age the implications and setbacks of being a poor black kid, a black child is supposed to also be smart enough to suggest to his stressed out mother and father (assuming they have both) both struggling to work two jobs just to put food in the fridge, that they are not doing enough for him/her and they want to go to private school. A child is supposed to find a way to tell their parents that they deserve more in life so get to it? Is this a realistic expectation that a child should have of their parents?
My parents did send me to private school, but they got scholarships – and everyone in my school knew it. What if I went to my parents and said that being poor is embarrassing and they need to work harder so that I shouldn’t be so embarrassed in the school they put me in. After all, they want the best for me, right?
I can tell you one thing for sure..that would have resulted in a 100% chance of bruising.
“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.”
OK. Now I am really confused. The kids have to be smart enough to want to be helped before they can be helped, but, most kids “don’t have the brains to figure this out themselves – like my kids“. Huh?
So, let me get this straight….it sounds like this guy is saying that only “smart” people have a chance in this world – despite inequality.
Isn’t that the definition of inequality? Isn’t equality when one group of people has an advantage over another. So, according to Mr. Marks, inequality is not ok when it comes to whites vs. blacks – but it is ok when it comes to what the general public views as “smart” vs. what the general public does not view as “smart”.
This whole article just sounds like a rich person bragging about their brains trying to justify why they are rich – instead of giving credit where credit is due – The Life Force of the Universe. Please refer to my article “Being Richer Does Not Mean That You Are Smarter” for what I think about that…..
If you disagree, I welcome the opportunity for friendly, intelligent banter! Please comment below.
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