If you are poor now, you will be poor later; school does not get kids out of poverty. One reason we know this to be true is that schools systematically move poor kids from the classroom to the jail cell. But the other barrier to lifting kids out of poverty is that rich kids score high and poor kids score low, and this doesn’t change if you put a rich kid in a poor-kid school or vice versa.
We also know school doesn’t lift kids out of poverty. The few adult millennials who are financially solvent come from rich families. Everyone else in that generation struggles to get a foothold in adult life because they are weighted down by school debt.
Even rich kids who supposedly paid for their own school did so with money they got from their rich-kid lives. For example, every bar mitzvah check, every babysitting dollar, all that extra money did not have to pay for food for your family to eat. It went into a bank account that served as an on-ramp to adult life.
But this is not news. The idea that the upper class is a closed caste is old news. The idea that the US is a class system slowly becoming an oligarchy is now popping up in mainstream newspapers.
What is news to me is that as the rich continue to take their kids out of school, and give their kids individual, customized learning programs, school increasingly becomes a place to learn to think like a poor kid.
President Obama himself declared school an essential form of daycare so that lower-income people can support themselves by working outside the home. I notice more and more advertisements for tutoring systems are targeted at minorities who still believe that school will give their kids a path out of poverty.
And today I saw an ad for Kmart that blew me away with its message: You should buy a lot of school supplies because doing so is like buying yourself a vacation from your kids. That’s what back-to-school means to Kmart shoppers. And in case you have any doubt who their target audience is, the focus of the ad is the Kmart lay-away plan: You might be short on cash, but the best way to spend what little you have is at Kmart, to get a vacation. From your kids.
When I first started writing this blog, just a few years ago, I was shocked to realize that school is actually a babysitting service. It blew my mind. Now it’s such a mainstream idea that you can find it in Kmart commercials.
The same thing will happen as there is an increasingly huge divide between the rich kids who do customized learning plans and all the other kids who go to school. Soon the divide will be so pronounced that we will make commercials on TV that assume this divergence to be true.
Kids will ask their parents, “Why did you put me in school when it was full of underprivileged kids?” and the parents will give an answer similar to what my mom told me when I asked her why she smoked through my pregnancy. “Everyone was doing it,” she said. “We didn’t believe it could be that bad when so many people were doing it.”