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The Myth of Social Mobility

February 27, 2013 1 comment

Amia Srinivasan’s honest but disheartening analysis in today’s NY Times, Dependents of the State, describes our country’s conflicted thinking regarding government dependency. In the opening paragraphs she describes the two broad perspectives on dependence. The conservatives believe that hard work and self-reliance determine an individuals lot in life and believe that social welfare erodes those virtues. Liberals, on the other hand, “…see the social welfare system a “safety net,” there only to provide a “leg up” to people who have “fallen on hard times.”  

Srinivasan presents some disturbing statistics that show that those in the poverty class do not lack a work ethic, rather their limited means prevent them from advancing in economic standing despite their work ethic and self-reliance.

…most of the people who rely on means-tested social services either cannot work, have been recently laid off thanks to the economic downturn, or are already working in poorly paid, immiserating jobs. Of the 32 million American children currently being raised in low-income families — families who cannot afford to meet their basic needs — nearly half have parents who are in full-time, year-round jobs.

Srinivasan then notes that education, the purported means for social mobility, has been compromised and no longer provides that opportunity.

While middle-class and rich children no doubt have to burn the midnight oil to get into Harvard and Yale, they mostly end up at those places because of the huge advantages that wealth confers in the context of a failing public education system. Liberals and conservatives alike pin their hopes on education as the “great leveler,” but the data tells us that the American education system magnifies the advantages of wealth and the disadvantages of poverty. The unearned advantages enjoyed by the children of rich parents dwarf the sums given to welfare recipients.

If you click on the link in this quote, it takes you to a graphic from a December 22 article describing the difficulties students born into poverty face when they attend post-secondary institutions of any kind. The graphs show that “…Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference in the share of affluent and poor students who earned a college degree. Now the gap is 45 points. The gap has also grown in college entrance rates and spending per child on tutors, sports, music and other enrichment activities.” I highlight the last section because those statistics were the most astonishing: parents in the “richest” 25% who spent FOUR times more on enrichment activities in the 1970s and 1980s now spent roughly EIGHT times more than students… and at the same time many of the schools serving children born into poverty have cut back on art, music, PE and extra-curriculars to meet budget challenges and focus on increasing standardized test scores. Srinivasan concludes her essay with this powerful paragraph:

We are all dependents of the state, not just the poor, and it’s certainly not the poor who benefit most from their dependence. The question isn’t who is dependent on the state, but whether the current political settlement treats everyone with fairness and dignity: whether the odds are stacked in particular people’s favor, whether some are able to prosper only at the expense of others, whether everyone has an equal opportunity to make a decent human life. That we may not like the answers to these questions is the very reason we should ask them.

When you read this and review the facts she presents, you’ll see that the odds ARE stacked in a way that makes social mobility a myth.

 

The Death of the Yuppie Dream: Education Division

February 25, 2013 Comments off

A post in Naked Capitalism called “The Death of a Yuppie Dream” caught my eye and led to a review in Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung of John Ehrenreich and Barbara Ehrenreich’s book of the same name. Their thesis is that the Professional Middle Class (PMC), is in decline and being replaced by cold capitalists whose focus is on profit. The PMC is described as:

… a class of college-educated professionals is distinct from— and often at odds with—both the traditional working class and the old middle class of small business owners, not to mention wealthy business owners. Organized into largely autonomous professions defined by specialized knowledge and ethical standards, members of the PMC at times—from the Progressive Era to the New Left—were instrumental in mobilizing for progressive causes.

The Ehrenreich’s PMC included doctors, lawyers, college teachers, journalists and middle managers in social service organizations. While they did not work in a coordinated fashion,

…members of the PMC have designed and managed capital’s systems of social control, oftentimes treating working-class people with a mixture of paternalism and hostility. As advocates for rational management of the workplace and society, however, the PMC has sometimes also acted as a buffer against the profit motive as the sole meaningful force in society.

Unfortunately, the PMC’s treatment of working-class people with a mixture of paternalism and hostility backfired inasmuch as it gave conservative politicians the opportunity to define this class as effete “elitists” effectively undercutting their ability to set the tenor for discussion… and leading to the corporatization of their various professions. In the “Background Notes” to the article, the Ehrenreich’s opening paragraph, titled “The Absorption of the Liberal Professions into Corporation Like Enterprises” describes the world of these professions, and public schools, with uncanny accuracy:

During the last fifty years, rapidly accelerating in the last twenty or so, corporations (or other large institutions, such as “mega” law firms, hospitals, and universities—organized along more-or-less corporate lines and sharing corporation priorities) have come to be the employers of most of those in the “liberal professions.” Increasingly, the work experience of most of those in these professions is coming to look like the work experience in engineering and the business service professions.

The “reformers” are not re-forming education, they are applying engineering principles to the factory school. The “reformers” are not re-forming governance structures, they are replacing them with corporate hierarchies led by self-styled CEOs with little or no experience in teaching or the day-to-day management of schools… and working in schools is looking more and more like working in engineering and business service professions with teachers saying “Welcome to Walmart” and administrators poring over spreadsheets to increase profits. the Ehrenreich’s description of what is happening in to other members of the PMC is happening in schools:

Today, the PMC as a distinct class seems to be endangered. At the top end, exorbitant compensation and bonuses have turned managers into corporate owners. At the bottom, journalists have been laid off, recent PhDs have gone to work as part-time, temporary adjuncts rather than tenure-track professors, and those now iconic recent graduates have taken to the streets. In the middle, lawyers and doctors are more and more likely to work for corporations rather than in private practices. Once independent professionals, they are now employees.

The Ehrenreich’s conclude their article with this admonition:

Today, members of the PMC face a choice. Will they cling to an elitist conception of their own superiority and attempt to defend their own increasingly tenuous privileges, or will they act in solidarity with other working people and help craft a politics capable of creating a better world for all?

Judge Denies Link Between State $$$, Evaluations

February 25, 2013 Comments off

I may be practicing law without a license here… but… this story from the Thursday NYTimes could have national implications. It seems to me that if a school district cannot be denied STATE funds because they are contingent to that district implementing a teacher evaluation system STATES can no longer enforce the FEDERAL RTTT mandate that all teachers be evaluated using some sort of value added metric. If my analysis is accurate, I am confident that attorneys in Washington and in State capitols across the country have come to the same conclusion and hope that Bloomberg can reach some kind of settlement before this case goes any further.

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