Opinion: Educational inequality heavily damages a child’s future

Hank Venetta

Hank Venetta

Hank Venetta is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Most of us won’t deny this: The quality of a child’s education is largely determined by the financial status of his or her parents. Sadly, due to the shrinkage of the middle class during the Great Recession, this problem has worsened.

The New York Times recently compiled many studies that suggest an increased gap between higher and lower quality education. Years ago, “race was more consequential than family income,” but “ … today family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford sociologist.

Despite the American ideal of equal opportunity, educational disparity continues to victimize children as young as five years old. The negative effects of low income are endless.

For instance, wealthy parents have more leisure time to help their kids with homework, whereas many poor parents come home exhausted every night. Even grimmer is the struggle of single parents, who put all their time and energy into feeding their kids, leaving little room for anything else.

In the nation’s poorest schools, an anti-intellectual climate dominates the classroom, aided by gangs, drugs and violence. This hostile and indifferent environment detracts from a student’s potential to learn. Children need role models, engagement and teachers who care. But the lack of control over whom or what they’re influenced by coincides with the most formative years of their lives.

Even best-case scenarios, in which lower class kids manage to attend well-rated schools, feature disadvantages rooted in society’s plentiful ways of discrimination. When there is a preponderance of Americans who relish materialism and luxury, those without nice things will get ostracized.

I knew some poor people in my high school, and I saw how they were mocked and treated differently by the middle- or upper-class kids. They were pinned down by poverty, stamped with a label and developed the inescapable identity of a poor person. They adopted this identify and acted in ways they were expected to act. Yes, this mistreatment left them bitter toward the school district and negatively influenced their ambition to get good grades. These things happen all the time, but you won’t see it in objective studies.

Never underestimate the cruelty of kids, who are ignorant of their actions, but never excuse this behavior in adults, which is just as common.

High school kids are not prepared to see the world from a broad socioeconomic lens. For college students, mockery and antagonism toward poor people needs to go. It’s a responsibility we’ve acquired from having the opportunity to get a higher education. A recurring lesson is that we don’t know anyone’s life story other than ours, that there are a variety of factors at play in a person’s life beyond his or her control. Education, perhaps the most essential thing in a person’s development, happens to be one of them.

When we convince ourselves that poor people are at fault for their condition, we’ve gone too far. Such an assumption about other people is grossly unjustified, especially when it’s clear that unfairness can exist the moment a kid enters kindergarten.