It’s Not Poverty, Either

In his column today Eugene Robinson says we should stop blaming teachers and start blaming poverty:

It is true that teachers in Chicago have dug in their heels against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demands for “reform,” some of which are not unreasonable. I’d dig in, too, if I were constantly being lectured by self-righteous crusaders whose knowledge of the inner-city schools crisis comes from a Hollywood movie.

The problems that afflict public education go far beyond what George W. Bush memorably called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” They go beyond whatever measure of institutional sclerosis may be attributed to tenure, beyond the inevitable cases of burnout, beyond the fact that teachers in some jurisdictions actually earn halfway decent salaries.

The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high expectations. Some studies have shown a correlation between student performance and teacher “effectiveness,” depending how this elusive quality is measured. But there is a whole body of academic literature proving the stronger correlation between student performance and a much more important variable: family income.

Yes, I’m talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.

According to figures compiled by the College Board, students from families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than $20,000 a year. There is, in fact, a clear relationship all the way along the scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points on the test.

Unfortunately, that’s circular logic. The emphasis on the importance of test scores in measuring teacher performance is an assertion about the effectiveness of their influence on cognitive development. The SATs are one measure of cognitive development but they’re not the only measure. The reason that cognitive development is being emphasized is that it’s relatively easy to measure.

There’s more than one developmental domain. There are, in fact, several: physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. Languge is another developmental domain. Of these the most important determinants of future success are the social and emotional domains. The SATs or math and reading achievement tests are not particularly good predictors for how well one will do in life.

And the most important factor in social and emotional development isn’t what you learn in school or how much money your family had or even how much education your parents had. It’s good parenting. Economist James Heckman has been studying this for years. Here’s a brief summary from a recent paper of his:

The returns to early childhood programs are the highest for disadvantaged children who do not receive substantial amounts of parental investment in the early years. The proper measure of disadvantage is not necessarily family poverty or parental education. The available evidence suggests that the quality of parenting is the important scarce resource. The quality of parenting is not always closely linked to family income or parental education. Measures of risky family environments should be developed that facilitate efficient targeting.

The emphasis is mine.

The reason we should be focusing our attentions on early intervention programs that target the development of non-cognitive skills (like, for example, the ability to defer gratification—a skill closely aligned with future success) is that the return on investment is so good. It’s about 10%.

Compare that with the very low return on investment in public job training programs, adult literacy services, prisoner rehabilitation programs, and education programs for disadvantaged adults, programs with an ROI that is notoriously low.

Note that these findings do not support Mr. Robinson’s claim but they do not support the Chicago Teachers Union’s claims, either. There is a finite amount of money. The more that is thrown away supporting the development of cognitive skills for kids who come to school without the social or emotional development that’s necessary to prepare them for learning, the less there is available for doing that preparation.

39 comments… add one
  • Drew

    This is a great, great post.

    Intellect and formal education have a role in success and life. If you want to be an engineer in the extractive fields, well, you need to understand physical chemistry and how you drive chemical reactions into separable phases. If you want to be an investor you need certain skill sets that come from formal training.

    But the bottom line is that you need what one of our CEOs calls attitude and energy, which is a proxy for things like gratitude deferment etc etc. There is no substitute for the will to succeed, and the sense not to self destruct. How many times have I made the same point?

    I’ve taken a lot of crap for citing golf. It’s not just golf. We find in our hiring profile that often competitive sports in ones background are an important indicator. But it could be competitive anything…..dancing, music and on it goes. Certain people have “it.”

    Success is an attitude: I won’t fail, and I’ll navigate the icebergs and not get sunk.

    I happen to think the family unit is crucial here. But it’s not the be all and end all. There can be other positive influences. But you play with fire when you adopt a philosophy where you set up the option to go on the dole vs keep the responsibilities of family and parenting in place. I think the empirical evidence is on my side.

    Lets get serious. Where do we see continuing poverty? It runs in bad families and bad attitudes.

    I suspect Mr Robinsons view is that we need to supplement incomes. Thats been a formula since the mid 60s and it is a total failure. Criminal.

  • Andy

    Yeah, good post. And no doubt about it, good parenting is hard and with three of my own it’s a challenge every single day.

    My two oldest are now 8 & 7 years old. It’s really difficult to gauge their intelligence since kids are naturally quick learners and inquisitive. The difference between the two definitely comes down to the social skills and intellectual maturity. My daughter, the 8 yo, is ahead of her peers and way ahead of her 7 yo brother who is “high maintenance” and easily distracted. His grandmother thinks he’s got ADD or ADHD. I’m not so sure.

    Then there is genetics. I have to wonder how much of the difference between my daughter and son is due to genetics and how much is due to parenting.

  • I’ve taken a lot of crap for citing golf.

    Drew, you have NOT taken a lot of crap not for talking golf. You’ve taken a lot of crap for bragging about (a) what a jackass you are to other golfers and (b) for how fantastic a golfer you are. You bragged at one point about showing up at the driving range and intentionally distracting everyone else by blasting your stereo. (As a bonus you made a point of bragging about how expensive your car and stereo system are.) Then you claimed that this meant you were bad-assed because you then had to show up on the first tee and hit a decent shot. You bragged that you did so _every_ _single_ _time_. Now, Tiger and Phil don’t always hit good shots off the first tee. But you do? Right.

    The fact that you can’t get that the criticism had nothing to do with golf is telling.

  • Drew

    Icepick

    Blow me.

  • Aw, that’s sweet Drew. But I’m not gay, and neither punk nor puto, so I’ll pass.

  • Drew

    Icepick

    Blow me II.

  • PD Shaw

    I think if you ask educators, they’ll say its parental participation rate with schooling, which has some relationship to income, though not strong enough to substitute one for the other. My wife recently volunteered to participate in a committee at our elementary school to study how to increase participation. My initial thought was that my wife was able to go to this meeting, solely because her husband was able to take the eldest to dance and watch the youngest. Are the < $20,000 per year family that Robinson mentions two head of household families? My wife's thought was lack of transportation for some of the families, perhaps they can look into providing a bus for some school functions. I pointed out that many of the non-participants likely work retail/dining during the evening, and simply may not be able to miss work. Problem remains under study.

  • TastyBits

    Bad parenting and ill discipline are major factors, but they do not operate in a vacuum.

    Only half of any group will be above average, and 80% will be around the average (or mean). Those who excel enough to be in the top will be few. There are few people who will substantially move up from where they start. There are a fixed number of NBA spots, Senate seats, or CEO jobs.

    Furthermore, most people stay in familiar surroundings. Venturing into a different environment can be scary. The culture is often very different, and not understanding how one is supposed to act can be off putting. It is easy to see when race is a factor, but wealth, religion, and education are additional factors. Within racial groups, there are also groupings if you understand them.

    Most of the people at the bottom have the added burden of being trapped in a tar pit created by public policy. These are the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs. Both of these have been a total failure. Instead of making things better, they have made the problem worse.

    As this tar pit entraps more people, the average is dragged down, and as we are experiencing, the 80% get dragged down also.

    Pulling oneself by their bootstraps is especially difficult when your boots are stuck in the tar pit. Even if one is able to extract their boots from the tar pit, moving out of the area is difficult. There are substantial differences between cultures in a city – eastside/westside, uptown/downtown, north/south, black/white/hispanic/asian.

    To the left, the solution is more money. To the right, the solution is more hard work. The bickering does not help anybody, but was that ever the goal? In my opinion, the left is worse because they claim they want to help, but the right does contribute to the problem through the War on Drugs.

  • TastyBits

    @PD Shaw

    That is a large problem that is rarely brought up.

  • Andy

    PD Shaw,

    In Ohio the school my kids went to was about 2/3 military families since it was right next to base housing. Military families are much more likely to be single-income households. I was on the PTO board for two years there. Participation was always a huge problem. Out of a student body of about 350 students, we had 2-3 non-PTO parents who regularly helped out with functions. Our meetings were right after school and there were always dozens of parents waiting to pick up their kids. We still managed to raise $10-15k each year to spend on stuff for the school. Maybe a dozen parents expressed enough interest to show up and actually vote on how to spend the money (the second year we sent ballots home and that worked much better).

    Anyway, after trying all sorts of things I finally concluded that most people simple aren’t interested in participating in school activities unless it’s fun and there is no work involved for them. At our new school in Florida it’s even worse with respect to participation – about the same number of involved parents, but over twice the student body.

  • steve

    As a long time Heckman fan, I am mostly in agreement. Without good parenting, a kid needs a lot of luck or some other source of intervention to succeed. Based on his work, I would agree that the left was wrong for throwing money at a lot of programs that had little chance of doing much. However, I think it also makes it clear that not many people really bootstrap themselves up. That the culture of learned dependency is largely a myth.

    The results from early intervention, by my reading are a bit mixed. They start out good, but slowly fade. I suspect this is due to parenting issues.

    While I think there is some validity to Drew’s observation about sports, but I think it only works to a point. Kids that come from strong families and played competitive sports seem to be the ones I know who excel.

    Steve

  • Drew

    “While I think there is some validity to Drew’s observation about sports, but I think it only works to a point. Kids that come from strong families and played competitive sports seem to be the ones I know who excel.”

    I believe that was exactly the point I was making. There are individual endeavors, and team endeavors. I’ve participated in both. But I can tell anyone on this cite that competititive juices formed as a young kid drive me to this day. And my parents always told me balance and diversity in academics, sports, personal things were key. Thats the non sport perspective. I believe they were correct. It certainly has served me well. And its an absolute, till my dying breath, not to give in to anything or anyone attitude.

    Despite the acerbic nature of some of the discussion, I think icepick is a smart, well educated and fine person. But I simply can’t help myself, because I work on behalf of many people who face adversity. I’ve seen three or four dozen icepicks. Some get over their self pity. Some don’t. It’s a personal decision.

    I’d like to meet icepick. I suspect he would want to punch me in the face. Me? I’d like to discuss “how do we fix this?”. “where does this go?”. “Is there a plan?”. ” how do you get from a to b to c?” That’s my mindset. Always has been mine. I’m a hopeless optimist.

    I just don’t think that’s his mindset right now.

  • The results from early intervention, by my reading are a bit mixed. They start out good, but slowly fade.

    I’m not talking about early intervention in developing cognitive skills. That’s the key point. I’m talking about early intervention in improving parent-child interrelationships. That’s not something the schools are set up to do effectively or are promoting expansion into.

    You’re right about the fading of early intervention in developing cognitive skills. But early intervention in improving the parent-child bond has benefits that continue through life and assist in learning, staying out of trouble with the law, and forming healthy and lasting relationships of their own.

  • I’m talking about early intervention in improving parent-child interrelationships. That’s not something the schools are set up to do effectively or are promoting expansion into.

    I hate to say it, but isn’t that the type of thing that a strong community setting provides? I mean extended family, family friends, friends, neighbors, fellow church members and so on, not social services per se. In other words …. No I just can’t bring myself to say it!

  • I hate to say it, but isn’t that the type of thing that a strong community setting provides?

    Absolutely. However, as Pat Moynihan pointed out a half century ago, the weakening of those institutions has a cost.

    My dad grew up in the poorest of poor neighborhoods (although his own family was rich). My mom’s family was about as poor as you good get. However, despite their early exposure to crime, violence, substance abuse, and other factors people point to as problems, they didn’t experience the stress that stunts the development of too many kids today because they both had absolute assurance in the love and protection of adults: my dad’s grandfather and uncle, my mom’s parents. That kind of relationship between an adult and a young child insulates the child against the effects of poverty, violence, and uncertainty in life conditions.

    I might add that although I don’t have any hard data on this I strongly suspect that in addition to real violence that artificial violence in the form of movies, television, and video games in the absence of solid adult love and commitment has some impact. The question I’m raising here is does artificial violence have the same neurological effects as real violence does? I don’t know the answer.

  • Drew

    “Furthermore, most people stay in familiar surroundings. Venturing into a different environment can be scary”

    You probably didn’t intend to, but you, in one sentence, described my life story. You also just described most entrepreneurs life story.

    They simply decided to go for it, and not fail. If you jump off a cliff, you better have a plan……….and you don’t want to hear that if it works, the government gets half, and if it doesn’t……sorry dude.

  • Drew

    “I’m talking about early intervention in improving parent-child interrelationships”

    Exactly. All the rest is bullshit.

  • I’d like to meet icepick.

    Suuuuuurrrreeee you would….

    I suspect he would want to punch me in the face.

    What would be the point in that? Violence is for very extraordinary situations. Meeting another asshole would hardly qualify as an extraordinary situation.

    Me? I’d like to discuss “how do we fix this?”. “where does this go?”. “Is there a plan?”. ” how do you get from a to b to c?” That’s my mindset. Always has been mine. I’m a hopeless optimist.

    Drew, you just do not understand how fucking bad it is. You call me a pessimist and negative. Fine, for the sake of argument I will accept that. But I know lots of people that does not apply to, and they’re in the same boat I am. Mind, I’m talking about professional types, people who had been accomplished in their prior careers. The wreckage that’s out here is amazing.

    New reports out in the last two days: record numbers on SSDI, record numbers on food stamps. More reports highlighting news from a couple of weeks or so ago about declining median incomes continuing since the technical end of the recession.

    That falling median income is before factoring rising food and gas prices.

    I’ve mentioned several times in the last few days the INCREASING number of abandoned homes in my neighborhood. Where are those poor folks going that used to live here?

    Part of the networking I do brings me in touch with a local Christian charitable organization. Let me be clear, I know people that work with them, and people that use them. There are an awful lot of people using food banks and other services from charities. (In fact it is about time for another round of stories about how much strain the food banks are under.) There are a lot of private charities doing a lot of work as well.

    Food stamps (or rather SNAP cards) and food banks are keeping people from going hungry. People are doubling up and tripling up to avoid going homeless. And again, I’m talking about educated people, people with positive work histories, people that had careers.

    Did these folks ALL develop attitude problems in 2008? Is that what happened?

    No, we are in the midst of another depression. The social safety nets are holding for the moment, but no telling what happens if another shock hits the system.

    BTW, been to the public libraries lately, especially the ones in downtown centers? Notice all the homeless people? Notice all the homeless people in the parks? Notice all the homeless people standing at the exits of the shopping centers holding up signs asking for something, anything? They’ve multiplied several times over in the last few years, there must be at lest five times as many that I see now. An increasing number of them are families.

    Yeah, this isn’t about attitude, Drew. This is about economic devastation. Nothing can help the unemployed except having enough jobs that someone HAS to hire them. Until that happens plans and attitudes and optimism don’t mean shit. Telling me is does mean shit is insulting to my intelligence.

    And that’s what you simply refuse to understand. The only thing the economy affects as far as you are concerned is your ability to own another vacation home. All the UE folks are just lazy, shiftless, conniving malcontents, according to you, solely responsible for their lot in life.

    So speaking for the mass of LTUE’d professionals that I know personally, fuck you.

  • Drew

    Ice

    Well, fuck you too. And I know I’ve said this before, but I’m weak, and have this intermanable ” i can fix it” attitude. Last time.

    Truth be told I think you are a good guy. I wish you only the best. There is the environment, and there is what people do with the environment. You must make your way. Else the balance of your life is going to be a bitter and unproductive journey.

    Best

  • jan

    This has been an Ice/Drew mini series on this thread.

    Both of you men seem sincere and smart, but are experiencing life in different ways. I remember reading, in some alternate thinking literature, that experience follows beliefs. So, perhaps you are both correct as to your assessments and outlooks on the economy and how easy, hard, how much attitude effects outcomes in navigating though all the obstacle courses that seems to be in everyone’s journey here.

    And while I don’t presume to know what it’s all about. I do think there will always be more questions than pat answers to the conundrums presented in most people’s daily lives. However, often times the greatest challenges provide the greatest lessons….

  • However, often times the greatest challenges provide the greatest lessons….

    Nicely caveated.

  • TastyBits

    @Drew

    Not everybody is going to be a winner. You are, but most are not. Your world would collapse if most people took your advice and became an entrepreneur. Most of the people who work with and for you would be in business for themselves, and there would be few replacements. In the end, everybody would be business owners with one employee. In order to populate a factory, you would need to negotiate a service agreement with each position.

    What you are advocating is good advice, and many people would greatly benefit from taking it. Throughout human history, the number of losers far outnumbers the winners, but the number of winners tend to increase when people begin to move. It is during these times when the entrepreneurial attitude can improve people’s lives.

    These do not happen very often. The black plague killed off enough Europeans to break the ties to the land. People had more wealth, and they were able to move. The Renaissance followed. The western migration in the US and the European immigration to the US have allowed people to move, and these movements allow new businesses to be created.

    When people become trapped in an area, the losers cannot move somewhere else and become winners. This is the tar pit that forms the bottom of society, and it has been created by the War on Poverty. Criminals tend to inhabit the lower end of society. The middle and upper levels have the ability to move out when the criminals move in. The War on Drugs has made the illegal drug trade exceedingly lucrative. The entrepreneurs are the drug dealers.

    The housing bust and financial collapse has trapped more people because of houses they cannot sell. These people cannot move to where the jobs are located, and there are few entrepreneurial opportunities in a depressed area. They also cannot finance any potential opportunities with underwater finances. These areas begin to have many of the same problems as the lower ends of society.

    It is not that what you are saying is not valid. The problem is that without movement it is largely irrelevant except for a few exceptional individuals. You were one of them, but most people are not. When a person is drowning, breast stroke advice is worthless. Get them into the shallow end. Let them rest, and then teach them how to swim.

  • steve

    Drew emphasizes risk taking. I would make hard work and good interpersonal skills just as important.

    Steve

  • The black plague killed off enough Europeans to break the ties to the land. People had more wealth, and they were able to move. The Renaissance followed.

    I doubt this analysis. The Plague first struck in Europe in Italy in 1347 and had basically run its course by 1350. The Renaissance was already in full swing in Italy by then. The English Renaissance didn’t start until significantly later, starting in the late 15th century and reaching its height in the 15th century. There’s really not much relationship.

    Actually, I think there’s a better case for the other way around—the Italian Renaissance caused the Black Death.

  • Andy

    Dave mentioned his family. My mother and father were kids during the depression. In the early 1930’s when my Mom was very young, her dad was “let go” from his job. He came back the next day and shot and killed his former boss. He went to prison and died there, leaving my grandmother with two very young girls to raise alone. My grandmother was forced to survive and survive she did, all through the depression. Practically any decision she made entailed a lot of risk. She didn’t have a choice – risk is unavoidable.

    Risk-taking is always going to be necessary, but risks aren’t equal. For people who live, literally, at the margins the risks are a lot more serious and a lot more clear and present than for someone like me and especially someone like Drew who already has a huge nest-egg. My grandmother survived and my Mom survived – persevered, really. It was family that made the difference.

  • My dad was born in 1914. His dad died when he was only 14. My mom was born in 1921. Or 1923 depending on which birth certificate you look at. Her parents separated when she was quite young and she bounced back and forth between them for years.

  • TastyBits

    @Dave Schuler

    I have never fully worked out the details. I could be totally wrong, but it follows the time period. I have never been satisfied by the conventional reasons for the breakdown of European Feudalism.

    The various waves of black plague weakened the social structure. The serfs were “liberated”, and the peasants could move to different locations. This eventually lead to the Renaissance. The warming as the Little Ice Age ended allowed more crops to be grown, and it also allowed more diseases to have large impacts further north. This would allow further die offs.

    The die offs allowed people to move, and the global warming allowed more food to be grown. This allowed people to move to the cities.

  • TastyBits

    @Drew

    I am not trying to disrespect you. I think where you came from is vastly different from where you are now, and you had to fight “every step of the way” to get where you are today.

    You are an exception. You provide an example of what can be done and a way to do it.

  • Andy

    Tasty,

    Compare Russia with the rest of Europe. Russia experienced the black death, but not the reconnaissance because it was still dominated by the Mongol Empire.

  • Timing is the problem, Tasty. The Italian Renaissance is usually dated from the birth of Dante Alighieri. That’s a century before the Black Death arrived in Europe.

    However, your observations about mobility are sound but you’ve got the causality backwards. Mobility preceded the Plague and allowed it to spread throughout Europe rapidly.

  • TastyBits

    @Andy

    Russia is strange but not in a bad way. I think that is what has drawn me to her history.

    The Russian Orthodox Church has had an enormous affect on Russia, and it helped to keep Russian society in a “steady state”. I am not as familiar with pre Czarist Russia, but if I recall correctly, the Mongols mostly raided the southern areas. Genghis may have established a governor, but Genghis was fairly liberal. If you paid the tribute, they mostly left you alone.

    I have never thought to combine Russia and Renaissance. Peter and then Catherine tried to westernize Russia, but they had limited success. You have given me a new aspect to consider.

  • jan

    “Drew emphasizes risk taking. I would make hard work and good interpersonal skills just as important. “

    Although hard work and good interpersonal skills might feed into a successful outcome, it is often the courage, or maybe foolishness, to take a risk, make a move that has no guarantees attached, which propels one to higher levels of achievement. In other words, someone can do all the ‘right’ things in a career, work hard, and have good social skills, but if they are not willing to step out on a ledge, every once in a while, they may not advance far in their life (despite their best ‘safe’ efforts).

    I remember when my husband and I were just out of college, we bought a fix-up property in a ‘bad’ area with little money on hand. My dad advised us to sell asap. But we worked several jobs, worked on the property with wisps of money at our disposal — improvements were made with sweat and ingenuity, rather than cash. When we sold we made a little profit, which we spun into another old property in a bad area which we again rehabilitated ourselves…and so it went.

    Both our parents thought we were crazy doing so much grunt labor with college degrees being more secondary. Our peer group would visit us as we worked, bringing beer over and chiding us for not being on the beach with them, in our free time. I remember being up all night, pacing around and worrying about finances, wondering if we were doing the right thing. But, we followed our own instincts, worked hard, took a lot of risks and are in a better place than most of our friends who initially tried to tempt us to go play with them.

    BTW, this is not to say that taking risks works out all the time, either. Sometimes you work hard, have good interpersonal skills, go out on a limb, and it’s still chopped off beneath you. Life is unpredictable. However, the chances of fulfilling dreams, by simply having them land in one’s lap, is less plausible than for those who actively pursue them.

  • TastyBits

    @Dave Schuler

    I will need to rethink this. It has been a long time, and I do not recall how I came to this idea. If I remember history correctly, trading with the east brought the plague to Europe.

    The plague began spreading, and die offs began. The social structure was breaking down. The Little Ice Age was waning allowing more food production. The movement allowed the plague to spread, and with each die off, wealth was divided among fewer people.

    Modern banking was forming as a result of increased wealth. The increased wealth allowed more leisure time leading to increased interest in the arts. The trading also allowed the lost knowledge to be reintroduced into Europe, and the Renaissance began.

    This is what I remember, but I could be wrong. It has been a long time, and I have forgotten a lot.

  • Risk-taking is always going to be necessary, but risks aren’t equal.

    Yep. I always laugh when I hear (certain) successful people talk about how much they struggled when they were younger. It frequently comes down to eating ramen noodles and such in grad school or directly thereafter. Okay, let’s get this straight, people. If you came from a good home, the kind of home where NOT going to college wasn’t even a thought, and then went to some private college and thereafter to some Ivy League school to get a JD, your struggles at being poor and hungry are not at all the same thing as someone growing up poor in Appalachia or some inner city slum. Eating light for a couple of years while in between your parents nice home and your future lucrative career is NOT struggling with poverty in any real sense whatsoever. The risks are not at all equivalent.

  • Yep. I always laugh when I hear (certain) successful people talk about how much they struggled when they were younger. It frequently comes down to eating ramen noodles and such in grad school or directly thereafter. Okay, let’s get this straight, people. If you came from a good home, the kind of home where NOT going to college wasn’t even a thought, and then went to some private college and thereafter to some Ivy League school to get a JD, your struggles at being poor and hungry are not at all the same thing as someone growing up poor in Appalachia or some inner city slum.

    I would never compare my own young adult experiences to the challenges a poor inner city kid faced (although for my first ten years I lived, quite literally, next door to them) or even to those of my own parents. I’m kind of somewhere in the middle.

    Smart kid, neither poor nor rich, never took a dime from my mom after my dad died when I was in my teens. She had enough on her plate providing for my younger siblings. From that point on I was on my own and really had no place to fall back on.

    I think that’s why I have a kind of resonance with Michael. We have an astonishing degree of shared experience. Except for his wonderful success, of course. I sort of muddle through.

  • Let me be clear, I grew up working class poor, and know people that had it worse than I did even within that group. I always had a roof over my head (although when I got older I found out that was a lot dicier a proposition than I knew as a small child), always had food, always had decent clothes, though not the stuff the cool kids wore. The problems I had growing up had to do with having a fucked up family. Which is the same old same old for a whole lot of people in the world.

  • steve

    @Ice- I think you have it right here. The kids in the elite schools really are, mostly, working their tails off. They live in run down apartments. They eat ramen. They think they are self made. They miss the part where they had the parents and the support system to get them there. (This gets hard to discuss at times. I dont think we should ever denigrate the hard work of those who have been successful. We need to do it in a way that respects that, but try to show that most of those people started out with a higher chance of success.)

    But, I think we are spending too much time talking about success meaning some guy making millions. We need those, but mostly we need people to be successful in the professions and with local small businesses. We need to get people to have jobs. The guy making millions probably risks going back to a desk job making 70k. The out of work person, the poor kid, divorced person going back to work risk everything. They may not have the family resources to fall back on. There may not be savings. I am not even sure risk taking is the relevant metric for most of these people. I think access, discipline, mobility, interpersonal skills, all probably matter more.

    @jan- You mention risk taking, then go to spend most of your post talking about hard work . I think you make my point.

    Steve

  • (This gets hard to discuss at times. I dont think we should ever denigrate the hard work of those who have been successful. We need to do it in a way that respects that, but try to show that most of those people started out with a higher chance of success.)

    I don’t mean to denigrate hard work at all. I’m sure Romney worked his ass off. But all that social capital he started with gave him a HUGE boost up.

    I also agree with everything else in your comment, steve. In particular the part about not everyone needing to have millions. I never particularly wanted to get rich. I’d love to BE rich, but unless one wins the lottery (Powerball or birth) one doesn’t get to be rich without earning it. I didn’t win any lotteries.

    I’ve know a few people that have worked their way up from the ground floor to having millions. I’ve seen the sacrifices they made. I was never interested in making those sacrifices, and reconciled myself to that back in my teens. I just wanted a comfortable life, which I had up until about 4.5 years ago. That’s still all I want, really, but it seems completely unattainable now. C’est la vie.

  • jan

    @jan- You mention risk taking, then go to spend most of your post talking about hard work . I think you make my point.

    Steve,

    I didn’t think I was disagreeing with your points, only blending it into the risk-taking one:

    Although hard work and good interpersonal skills might feed into a successful outcome, it is often the courage, or maybe foolishness, to take a risk, make a move that has no guarantees attached, which propels one to higher levels of achievement.

    My bottom line was that if you don’t take the risk, the hard work and interpersonal skills will not necessarily move you out onto a higher plain of achievement. The risk is the catalyst, IMO. But, the hard work and interpersonal skills nourish that risk into fruition.

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