Friday, November 12, 2010

The Achievement Gap (Race, Economics, and Class)

Dalton Conley noted in Being Black, Living in the Red that:

"Overall, blacks do worse than whites (the result one expects from anecdotal information and summary statistics), but when the differences in economic endowments that African Americans and whites bring to the educational system are taken into consideration, blacks do better than whites in some measures and the same as whites in others."

""For instance, net worth is the second most important predictor of attaining the increasingly important college degree (after parental education level.) This central importance of assets in financing higher education in an increasingly technical economy shoots a hole through the enticing account of inequality offered by Herrnstein and Murry in The Bell Curve."

"While young African Americans may have the opportunity to obtain the same education, income, and wealth as whites, in actuality they are on a slippery slope, for the discrimination their parents faced in the housing and credit markets sets the stage for perpetual economic disadvantage."

"" asset gap will continue to widen. This is true because of the cruel fact that wealth begets greater wealth. Starting with a few hundred dollars at 10 percent compounded interest, an individual will end up with a thousand dollars after a decade or two. Starting with a thousand dollars, however, another individual will end up with several thousand dollars, and the wealth gap will have grown in absolute terms despite equal access to investments."

"Wealth, not occupation or education, is the realm in which the greatest degree of racial inequality lies in contemporary America."

On the other hand, Annette Lareau, in her book, Unequal Childhoods, make the class argument.

She states "Many Americans believe that this country is fundamentally open. They assume the society is best understood as a collection of individuals.  They believe that people who demonstrate hard work, effort and talent are likely to achieve upward mobility. Put differently, many Americans believe in the American Dream.  In this view, children should have roughly equal life chances.  the extent to which life chances vary can be raced to differences in aspirations, talent, and hard work on the part of individuals.  This perspective rejects the notion that parents' social location systematically shapes children's life experiences and outcomes."

Other scholars,  Ms. Lareau points out, take the position that "...systemic forms of inequality, including, for example, differences in parents' educational levels, occupational prestige, and income, as well as in their child-rearing practices do exist. However, "These scholars, see such differences within society as a matter of gradation. To explain unequal life outcomes, they see it as helpful to look at, for example, differences in mothers' years of education or the range of incomes by households in a particular city." "Scholars who take this perspective on inequality typically focus on the ways specific patterns are related (e.g., the number of years of mothers' schooling and the size of children's vocabularies, or the number of years of mothers' education and parental involvement in schooling).

Lareau challenges both views. "...I see as more valuable a categorical analysis, wherein families are grouped into social categories such as poor, working class, and middle class.  I argued that these categories are helpful in understanding the behavior of family members, not simply in one particular aspect but across a number of spheres.   Family practices cohere by social class."

Lareau therefore concluded "Social group membership structures life opportunities.  The chances of attaining key and widely sought goals-high scores on standardized tests such as the SAT, graduation from college, professional jobs, and sustained employment-are not equal for all the infants whose births are celebrated by their families.  It turns out that the family into which we are born, an event over which we have no control, matters quite a lot."

All in all, this is excellent information. No doubt scholarly and of significant merit. But, we as a people, can not accept or be confined in terms of our life aspirations by any preconceived notions or explanations.  We must confront this type of information squarely, and resolve to break the gravitational pull of either race, economics or class.

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