‘…it is obvious that if man is to redeem his spiritual and moral “lag”, he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” of the world. Poverty is one of the most urgent items on the agenda of modern life.’

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Nobel Lecture

While I do not for one second believe we are done addressing the racial achievement gap, a new report linked and discussed in this recent article suggests that we clearly have a serious challenge ahead in removing the socioeconomically-driven gap in student achievement.

In reading this article, I was reminded that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had begun to take up the flag of poverty following the still-tenuous success of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Based on the report above, even in the 60s, it was becoming clear that poverty was the next horizon of inequity to be pursued and challenged.  What appears clear now is that we have not just one gap to abolish, but two.  And that of the two challenges, poverty is the greater.

I believe we are all familiar enough with the causes of economic disadvantage, though I will be the first to plead guilty to a lack of understanding of the depths of this challenge.  I grew up in a middle-class family in a suburban bedroom community, attended relatively new suburban schools, and attended middle-class universities.  I have never been rich, but I was never poor, either.  At least, I never thought I was.  I have done enough volunteer work through my life to know that there are children who live and grow up in circumstances that most of us cannot imagine and that I could probably never fully appreciate.

Nevertheless, I believe that a child that grows up in a single-parent home where time is precious, or without books or access to many of the materials and media we take for granted, or where the household income is barely if at all sufficient to provide for basic needs — that child grows up with a built-in disadvantage in education that accumulates throughout their lives.  This is a disadvantage that, like race or ethnicity, was not of that child’s choosing.  It is a disadvantage that, also like race or ethnicity, can be imposed insidiously unless we identify it honestly, call it by name, point out each way that it affects us, and work to find ways by which it can be eliminated.

My concern today is that there are those that, for their own reasons, believe that they are not responsible for bringing equity to this situation of an economic achievement gap.  They got to where they are, gosh darn it, through the accumulated benefits of their posterity or by other fortunate means, and by golly, let others find their own way.  The most surprising thing to me is that these folks adhere to some of the most deeply held religious or philosophical beliefs that insist that we are, together, responsible for all of our children and the future of our nation and her economic prosperity.

Times, tough though they are, are not so hard that we cannot find ways to share our strengths and seek out opportunities to change the plight of a child.

The article above starts off stating that education has historically been considered the great equalizer, that education can overcome the classic disadvantages of class or power or privilege that conspire against an equal education and a prosperous future.  I believe education is still the great equalizer, and that a meritocracy, harsh at times, brought and still brings the right strengths to our economy.  But I also believe that each child has an equal right to the best education that we can collectively provide, that we have no way to know where the next great artist or scientist will come from, and that it is thus self-evident that those of us who have prospered have a deep obligation to those less fortunate in lending a helping hand.

04. October 2009 · Write a comment · Categories: Posts · Tags:

I’m a fan of listening to lectures in my car, so recently I listened to Wake Forest Professor Robert Whaples’ lectures on Modern Economic Issues from the Teaching Company.  Good stuff and I recommend the lectures to anyone wanting to get a great perspective on a number of everyday issues.

[As an aside, the lectures were produced just prior to the current economic challenges, so it's downright humorous to hear the glowing discussion of our American economy.  I have no doubt it WAS and may still be a marvel, but I believe some revision to the mantra is in order -- certainly the first lecture should be taken with a good dose of salt.]

Professor Whaples made reference to Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw’s blog, so I started reading it.  Also good stuff and it’s nice to see what another professor thinks about day-to-day issues.

His current post shows how the unemployment rate has actually played out since early 2009 as compared to Government predictions, and I just wanted to ask one more question about that graph.  In a previous post, Professor Mankiw references some discussions with a government source indicating that they would not only be interested in the multipliers used to predict the effect on the economy, but also in the spend-out rate, which I presume is the rate that stimulus funds were “actually” spent, not how they were planned to be spent in early 2009.  I’m hoping someone or Professor Mankiw can also get that information, since I would hypothesize that the spend-out rate will look significantly different from the projections, as well.

This stimulus has been an interesting experiment to test many of the basic assumptions that I’ve read about and learned about for years, and I’m sure many folks will be watching as we see whether reality matches our theories.