In matters of style, swim with current; In matters of principle, stand like a rock. – Thomas Jefferson
Should where a student lives influence his or her chances of upward mobility? Most of us would say no. But here are some sobering facts.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, a 33 year old born in Salt Lake City of parents in the bottom fifth of national income distribution, has an 11.5 percent chance of making it into the top fifth. If that same person were born in Atlanta, chances are just 4 percent. This is just the tip of the inequality iceberg.
In 2012, The New York Times reported that the U.S. was the least economically mobile of all comparable nations. Our social structure is just about frozen. The Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Charitable Trust found that 65 percent of those born into the bottom two-fifths of the income ladder stay there.
As we get ready to celebrate Labor Day, we should reflect on what this means for working Americans. Upward mobility is the American Dream. When hard work and education do not lead to a better life, the dream begins to fade, and when dreams fade, fear and resentment grow.
It need not be this way. Following the lead of Thomas Jefferson we should stand like a rock for the principle and practice of equality of educational opportunity, but be ready with swim the currents of modernity by creating a system of public schools based on innovation and discovery.
Zip code-based education and the lack of mobility it creates are decidedly not Jeffersonian. After Labor Day most American students go back to school. What if we took Jefferson seriously and made this the school year when equality of educational opportunity wasn’t just a sound bite but became a national mission?
Photo Credit: Mr. Conservative