Home > Uncategorized > This Just In: Our System is NOT as Fair as We Claim… and Once Middle Schoolers Figure That Out Their School Performance Sags

This Just In: Our System is NOT as Fair as We Claim… and Once Middle Schoolers Figure That Out Their School Performance Sags

Josh Hoxie’s recent Common Dreams post analyzes the results of a recent study of disadvantaged Middle School students in AZ and concludes that we are kidding ourselves but not the children raised in poverty.

A just released study published in the journal Child Development tracked the middle school experience of a group of diverse, low-income students in Arizona. The study found that the kids who believed society was generally fair typically had high self-esteem, good classroom behavior, and less delinquent behavior outside of school when they showed up in the sixth grade.

When those same kids left in the eighth grade, though, each of those criteria had degraded — they showed lower self-esteem and worse behavior.

Erin Godfrey, the NYU professor who conducted and wrote this study, concluded that this decline in self-esteem and behavior was the result of children beginning to understand society’s expectations: “there’s this element of people think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am.”  Hoxie describes it as having the students experience the cognitive dissonance for the first time: students hear politicians and the media tell them if they work hard and play by the rules they can succeed but they witness something completely different in their daily lives.

Hoxie sees this as a relatively easy and straightforward problem to fix:

we need major investments in universal public programs to rebuild the social safety net, ensure early childhood education as well as debt-free higher education, and good-paying jobs.

In other words, we need to help those born without inherited assets to get the same shot at education and employment as everyone else — and also reassure them that if they fail, they won’t end up homeless.

Those who claim the country can’t afford such programs should look at the massive subsidies lavished out to the ultra-wealthy. In 2016, half a trillion dollars were doled out in tax subsidies, overwhelmingly to the already rich.

Spend more on the safety net, transfer money from inheritances to early intervention programs, and transfer money from the tax subsidies for the affluent to those families who need to start at the same point as the children of affluence. A straightforward and easy to explain program that, if executed, would restore the fairness of our economic system. But, alas, it seems easier to look at the very few children raised in poverty who succeed against all odds and stick to our myth that every child therefore has a chance.

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