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Former HS Principal Challenges Five “Affirming Myths” About Upward Mobility

October 11, 2017

An article in Metro USA offers a preview of “When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise”, a book by Linda F. Nathan, former co-headmaster of Boston Arts Academy, to be published later this month. According to the article by Pat King, Ms. Nathan sets out to dispel five “affirming myths” about upward mobility:

Those myths are:

  • “Money doesn’t have to be an obstacle”
  • “Race doesn’t matter”
  • “Just work harder”
  • “Everyone can go to college”
  • “If you believe, your dreams will come true”.

I’ve written several (or maybe countless) posts debunking these myths in an unsystematic fashion over the past six years, but these ideas ARE affirming to those of us who have created our own affirming myths about how hard we had to work to pay for college, how many African Americans attended classes with us in graduate school, and how many people we’ve met in our lifetimes who strived and overcame what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles. Each of these “prove” that the five aphorisms above are not myths but realities. But I think if every white male baby boomer born into the middle class examined their personal affirming myths they would realize that:

  • Paying for college was much easier in the 1960s than it is today
  • Racism is as virulent today as it was before Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s and the passage of the Civil Rights bills in the 1960s.
  • Hard work is easier for someone born into a college educated family where mom and dad work as a team to raise a family
  • Everyone may be able to get into a post-secondary school but everyone doesn’t need a college degree to make their way in the world
  • Believing in agreeable fantasies like the first four myths will not change the realities that those born into poverty face or those born with brown or black skin face… “if you believe” the first four myths, the fifth one must be true.

I was fortunate to be born as a white male into a family of two college educated parents who raised me and my three siblings in neighborhoods or towns where we could attend the best public schools. They encouraged thrift, open-mindedness when it came to race and class distinctions, hard work at home and during the summer, attendance at colleges we could pay for out of our own pockets, and to keep our feet on the ground while we looked to the future. That good fortune contributed more to whatever success I achieved than anything I did…. and it is a “good fortune” that our country should try to provide to as many of its citizens as possible.

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