Thread: Schools.....interesting read
07-28-2005, 11:47 AM #1
America has a small problem with class—and a bigger one in its schools
ONCE again, America is changing—and in surprising ways. Much is made of how the United States is now a divided country, the “50:50 nation” split equally between red Republican states and blue Democratic ones, where the last two presidential elections were decided by relatively small margins, first in Florida and then in Ohio. Yet if you look beyond party politics at some of the things that have distinguished America—mobility, immigration, meritocracy, volunteerism—a more confusing image emerges: not so much one of division but of a centrifuge. As our survey in this issue argues, America is spinning into lots of different bits.
Don't panic. To a large extent, this is the way that America has always worked. It is a country that has specialised in reinventing itself, sucking in new arrivals and hurling them round the world's most dynamic economy. Somewhere between Ellis Island and the car factories of Detroit (or nowadays between the Rio Grande and a bungalow in Riverside) the newcomers are Americanised. And many Americans keep on moving, looking for the next big thing, a better job, a mate or just an easier commute. This year, around 40m Americans—a wagon train the size of Spain—will move house.
This dynamism helps explain why America has been growing so much faster than Europe. The difference now is that the process is becoming slightly more clumpy: successful Americans are sticking together more than they used to. Once again, this is not a question of “two Americas” leaping off the map: there are plenty of boom-towns and, especially, boom-burbs in every state. And, no, there is not an obvious racial dimension either: many blacks are still doing badly, but Latinos, who will account for one in five Americans by 2030, seem to be being assimilated just fine. But it does reinforce a fear: is America beginning to develop more of a class system?
If the American dream is based on anything, it is on the idea that anybody can make it to the top. Does that square with the past two elections, where George Bush (Andover and Yale) has seen off Al Gore (St Albans and Harvard) and then his fellow Skull and Bonesman John Kerry (St Paul's and Yale)? The 2008 race might even be another dynastic contest between Mr Bush's brother and his predecessor's wife. More worryingly, there has been a flood of statistics suggesting that income inequality is now reaching levels not seen since the Gilded Age in the late 19th century.
In 1979-2000, the real income of the poorest fifth of American households rose by 6.4%, while that of the top fifth rose by 70% (and of the top 1% by 184%). As of 2001, that top 1% nabbed a fifth of America's personal income and controlled a third of its net worth. Again, this would not necessarily be a cause for worry, as long as it was possible for people to work their way up and down the ladder. Yet various studies also indicate that social mobility has weakened; indeed by some measures it may be worse than it is in crusty old Europe.
America fixed its class problem in the Gilded Age by becoming more meritocratic: money was poured into education, and ladders were created for young bright children to ease past the robber barons' doltish offspring. America's “problem” nowadays—and it is really a triumph—is that this meritocracy is working almost too well. Put crudely, educated people are marrying each other and pouring money into their children's education to make sure they go to the same universities. That helps explain why American universities are so much better than their peers; but only one in 30 students at the most selective ones come from the poorest quarter of households.
A new deal for schools
So the challenge is different. But the solution once again is to be found in the education system—particularly America's rotten public schools. Republicans are, generally speaking, reluctant to spend more money—partly because they represent people in richer school districts and partly because so much cash has already been wasted (America spends much more than other countries). Meanwhile Democrats, enslaved to the teachers' unions, are generally unwilling to countenance reforms such as school vouchers and testing; and they are also keener on affirmative action, the system of race-based preferences which makes universities less competitive and keeps the poison of race in a debate which is best focused on income.
This is depressing. But a political solution of sorts is going begging. Republicans should be willing to spend more cash on schools in poor areas (including on teachers' salaries) in exchange for the Democrats accepting structural reform. The No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced some forms of testing and the daring possibility of shutting down some bad schools, was an important step forward. But more is needed. Otherwise two Americas really will start to jump out off the map.
08-01-2005, 10:08 PM #2
Want smart kids? Yank them out of the governments schools and send them somewhere else, preferably home schooling.
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