Is America Still a Land of Opportunity for Upward Mobility?
To Shasta, what makes America great is her fundamental ability to fulfill her chosen roles and responsibilities in life. As a mother, she can ensure that her family is fed and well- taken care of. As a woman, she can safely gain employment both inside and outside of the home. Her American citizenship endows her with the freedom to make economic advancements in life through access to income and the potential to save. Yet most importantly, she has the opportunity to set her children up for success and prepare them to fulfill their own roles in life by providing them with the opportunity to become educated.
Shasta believes in the viability of the American dream and understands education as the means to achieve it. Education is an American way of life. Through schooling, Shasta’s children can learn about the world and the world can learn about us. Immigrant children and families learn how to be American through the education system and, maybe for the first time, realize that they can reach as far as their potential allows. Shasta’s believes that America’s greatness is derived from our ability to chose, realize, and succeed in the roles we accept in life and that, through education, the possibilities are endless.
According to Bill, the United States derives its strength from the Constitution and the institutions of democracy outlined by its articles. Written nearly 250 years ago, the Constitution and the bodies, protections, and laws it established endure as fundamental pillars of our nation. Still, our American society is dynamic. It does not close its borders to progress, but rather evolves with the changing definition of the American citizen. As Bill described, the United States welcomes new people and new ideas, and becomes strengthened through the acceptance of new cultural identities.
The combination of our founding principles and expanding cultural identity creates a unique ‘Americanness’ that continues to make our nation great. We are strong because we allow our society to evolve without losing the foundations of who we are as Americans. As the American culture advances so does the American citizen. Bill describes how a cornerstone of our ‘Americanness’ is a dedication to opportunity. Through education and legislation, we ensure that any citizen can achieve their goals and be successful if they work for it. In turn, we share our ideals with the rest of the world. We strive to make the world a better, safer place for everyone.
Bob explores the great qualities of the United States by examining the realities of many immigrants who come here in search for a better life. Specifically, he focuses on immigrants who bring with them ‘brain trusts,’ which had been under-utilized in their home countries. Bob depicts the United States to be an incubator of intelligence and talent. America provides people with the opportunity to develop their abilities and reach their full potential. As Bob explains, for those who are American born and those who are American by choice, there is always a chance to succeed.
America prospers because it cultivates and utilizes the talents of its current and future citizens. Yet, even as we accept immigrants from various countries into our own, our American cultural identity endures. The US is a country of strong principles and ideals. As Bob explains, it is by maintaining these values that we can sustain our capacity to afford opportunities to succeed and foster innate potential.
Shasta recognizes the significant impact early life care has on the lifetime success of children. Specifically, she highlights the importance of receiving unwavering parental support and the disadvantage experienced by children who are denied it. Children, who do not receive adequate parental support and supervision, in addition to being exposed to other factors, including bad nutrition, environmental pollutants, and a lack of role models, may remain disadvantaged for their entirety of their lives. As such, they will be less able to develop the tools to needed to care for their own children. Shasta describes how this vicious cycle forces the burden of poverty on families who become increasingly deprived with each passing generation. Consequentially, class divisions are becoming wider as the rich poor are increasingly polarized.
Much of our society’s efforts to disrupt the cycle of poverty have failed. As Shasta explained, the war on poverty has blamed the poor for creating their own problems, which further victimizes them. Shasta advocates for early childhood interventions, that prevent early determinates of health and behavior from ruining future success and a greater focus on school and community institutions that catch children before they fall through the cracks.
Bill discusses how our society has become fractured along racial and ethnic lines, resulting in the disadvantage of minority groups. Through economic racism, minority racial and ethnic groups are forcibly kept in the underclasses through economic means and segregated based on income. Legislation and the education system attempts to provide avenues of success for these disadvantaged groups, however these efforts often fall short. As Bill explains, one such reason is the frequent failure of children coming from lower Socio-economic status families to engage with education due to a lack of familial encouragement to do so.
Despite the shortcoming of both the education system and legislation aimed at helping disadvantaged groups, Bill acknowledges that we, as a society, continuously try to make things better. Our attempts to implement positive change may not always work, but it is backed by good will and the intent to address social needs. Furthermore, while some children may lack parental support that encourages them to get an education, all hope is not lost. According to Bill, community organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, religious youth groups, and athletic teams connect students to mentors and role models who can teach discipline, work ethics, and life lessons, and instill in them a desire to learn.
Bob believes that the destiny of poor kids in America has broad implications for our country. To rectify the disadvantaged situation of these children and their families, Bob understands there to be two primary, yet divergent methods, which he describes as ‘giving a man a fish,’ and ‘teaching a man to fish.’ By ‘giving a man a fish’, or rather providing aid individuals through the welfare system, Bob posits that our government incentivizes further dependency. Conversely, by ‘teaching a man to fish’ we can encourage children to work hard and rise out of poverty through their own efforts.
For children to pursue their own successes in life, they must first be offered the opportunity to do so. We, as a community, must ensure that avenues to rise out of poverty exist. While Bob advocates for the promotion of opportunity, he does not view it as the solely the government’s responsibility. Instead, he supports a more limited role of government involvement.
According to Shasta, there needs to be a change in our approach to solving social problems, such as income inequality and access to quality education. Currently, our society vilifies social problems and those who suffer from them. We have programs to help those in need, however they are labeled as ineffective and damaged by the narrative that there is not sufficient funding to run them properly. Shasta explains how these critiques are false- the programs themselves are not ineffective, just underfunded. Furthermore, the funding to make them effective exists; but we need to prioritize social welfare programs in national and state government budgets.
For Bill, the solution to the social problems facing disadvantaged children starts at the public school door. Education provides the opportunity for all students to improve their condition in life, but first they have to dedicate themselves to the processes. Students need to accept responsibility for their futures by attending school, working hard, and asking for help when they need it. Opportunities currently exist for the students willing to seize them; yet by encouraging entrepreneurialism, our communities can inspire student to create their own opportunities in life.
According to Bob, beyond simply attending school, children need to have a desire to learn. By instilling students with these values and establishing a clear set of rules and expectations, we can create a platform for educational success. However, we must also acknowledge that there is not one clear route for success, but a diverse series of paths children can take. Some students aspire to go to college, but others may chose to go to trade schools. We must also invest in these alternative educational trajectories. Regardless of the type of education an individual receives, it is essential that, by the end of their schooling, avenues exist to ensure that they become productive, self-supporting members of society. As Bob explains, in pursuit of this end, we must focus on job creation.