Dentist Retort (by Clarissa Phillips)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 7:08 AM by Daniel Laurison

As a society founded on the principals of democracy and freedom, we place a lot of value on the choices one makes and thus attribute their success, or lack thereof, to their innate abilities or intelligence. It seems logical that the people who perform the best would achieve the most and thus we justify those with more as better than those with less. However, when we account for the different social and economic environments we all inhabit, this argument collapses as everyone's initial position is different making it impossible to compare one person’s experience to another’s. These inequalities are present throughout the entirety of our existences, even going so far as to infiltrate our education system. A system tasked with bestowing our children with the knowledge necessary to “make something of themselves.”

Not all schools are the same. As noted in articles here and here Schools in areas inhabited by a majority of low income families have less resources than those in wealthy districts. As a result, they are prone to absurdly large class sizes or less experienced teachers, making it hard for students to focus or gain the individualized attention they need. A family’s individual financial restraints can also hinder a student’s ability to participate in extracurricular activities that are integral to gaining beneficial social connections and information for advancement (e.g. available scholarships, honors programs or classes, application deadlines). In comparison, students whose family’s do not suffer from extreme financial constraints are able to use their economic resources to give them a leg up in a multitude of different ways. As pointed out in this article by Michael Godsey, students who attend private schools are not the only one’s who are educationally advantaged, public school students who have outside tutors or are enrolled in outside honors classes or college courses are as well. Similarly, as noted in Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods, children of college educated parent’s are even more advantaged as their parents are more familiar with both the lower and higher education systems and thus can fight for them to be put in harder classes or help them complete their college applications. This ultimately makes some students incredibly disadvantaged in comparison to others whose families who have more resources.

The inequalities do not stop in grade school, however, as lower income students face many disadvantages throughout college. Somewhat shockingly, it is noted that lower income students are disadvantaged by the way they approach the college experience as a whole. While we condition our youth to think that focusing on their studies is the best way to secure a successful job post grad, a huge part of obtaining an elite position is dependent on the types of connections you have. Lower income students tend to focus on their assignments or have to work part time to cover debts, thus skipping parties and other rambunctious social gatherings and in doing so miss out on the opportunity to become good friends with a well connected frat brother or business major whose father is managing partner at a top law firm.

Although it is possible for someone to climb up the social ladder, the difficulty of which one is able to do so varies tremendously on the circumstances they find themselves in. As a result, a person’s social position is not simply a product of their ability because so much of their experience is influenced by environmental circumstances. The flaws in our education system are just one of many phenomenon promoting reproductive class inequalities in our society. These issues as well as others related to the way in which we function as a society heavily disadvantage the poor and advantage the wealthy.


Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the Party. Harvard University Press, 2013. JSTOR. Web. 2 May 2017.

Lareau, Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2nd Edition with an Update a Decade Later. 2 edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Rivera, Lauren A. Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Revised ed. edition. Princeton Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016. Print.