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Education has no class

May 9, 2007

Insidehighered.com has an intriguing Q&A with Peter Sacks (Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education) from which I pull a string of quotes below.

In a recent posting, I described how higher ed discussions should include the terms “Access” and “Exposure.” Peter Sacks falls directly into the access side—that is, instead of a degree providing access, there is a strata whose access is limited or denied.

Libertarian Free-marketer: “So what? Each person will succeed or fail according to his merits. It is natural. Hell, it is natural selection. The best and brightest go to the good schools and get the good jobs. So there it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Bush Whack-job: “No Child Left Behind was crafted to address just this sort of thing. Why, back in Texas there were plenty of poor kids who couldn’t read or nothin’. With NCLB, as we like to call it, these kids and their teachers get the kick in the butt they need in order to pass the test. I like it. It has compassion.”

Kerry Liberal: “I think that the current administration has failed the American public. With its over-attenuation and attention on standardized metrics, this administration has illustrated an unnerving capacity for obfuscating the real problem: that the lower income families, hard working families, are being denied basic social services—namely access to quality education.”

Clinton moderate: “I know such people as these. I grew up among them. If not for the good graces, I would have, myself, stalled in the backwaters of Arkansas. But I was given a hand up, given a chance, and I took that chance. You can too. We can bring hope to Hope, Arkansas and everywhere with your help.”

Me: Sacks offers up a brief history of the shift of national attention (see Paglia from earlier post) from the higher class getting an education to opening up educational access to all:

After the Second World War, presidents from Truman through Nixon held up the ideal of equal educational opportunity as a centerpiece of the American enterprise. We believed that higher education was so fundamental to our nation that federal and state policy would ensure that nobody would be denied higher education because of an inability to pay.

And so the Staffard loans go out (to the right vendors, apparently) and the Pell grants given all with the hope that education will bring a brighter future. And it will. Don’t get me wrong here, I am a direct product of a higher education taking a working-class kid from West Texas and opening up his thinking and opportunities. That said, the present system is based on fundamental inequalities that continually go ignored, overlooked or otherwise unaddressed:

We are creating a system in which ability to pay is the main thing that separates those who go to college from those who don’t go to college.

Paglia called it “brand name college” seeking. With the better brands come a higher cost—if one is considered at all. But, fine, branded colleges in a free market should seek to raise their market cap to its fullest. But public schools?

While UM President Mary Sue Coleman was making wonderful speeches about diversity, something like just 12 or 13 percent of Michigan’s undergraduates were receiving Pell Grants, ranking the public University of Michigan among the most elite private institutions on this measure.

Branded schools, to be honest, are good for the student. Brands give access. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business will run companies. A graduate of UofM’s business will run companies. A graduate of Western Michigan University (a land-grant, teaching university) will work for companies. We are not being naive here. What we would like, though, is truth in advertising. If America is the land of opportunity, then so be it. If it is, truthfully, the land of opportunity for some, not so much for others, and none for you…then let’s own up to that as well.

For example, the average SAT score of students whose families earn between $30,000 and $40,000 a year is 1436. That’s compared to the average of 1656 for students whose parents earn $100,000 or more — a 220-point difference

220 points erases Uof M’s affirmative action padding.

I will seek to specific more concretely what I would like to see.

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One Comment
  1. Laura permalink
    May 10, 2007 11:46 am

    All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others.

    The SAT issue is something that drives me crazy. When I was applying to schools, the test-prep business didn’t really exist. Most of us bought one of the books a week or so before the test (at $9.95 a pop), took a few practice tests and walked in basically cold. Only the valedictorian-types scored over about 1400 (the top score would have been 1600 then). The rest of scored in the 1100s or 1200s, respectably in the 95 percentile or so. My score looks pathetic now by comparison and would have kept me out of the prestigious liberal arts college I attended were I applying today.

    I’m looking forward to more about class and education. It’s one that I think we’ve turned a blind eye to (or been in denial about) for far too long.

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