Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two Americas: Pre-Election Edition

Back when he ran for president the first time, and I supported him avidly, and campaigned for him, Barack Obama was a little bit tetchy about the "two Americas" line of thinking espoused by John Edwards. At the time, many of my university advisors and mentors supported Edwards. Edwards struck me as smarmy. I was right about that, but my profs were right in one regard: Edwards was the only one really talking about inequality and poverty. Inequality is the greatest problem our nation faces today. I know that's a bold statement, but I believe it to be true. There are very much two Americas in this country. I grew up in one, which we will euphemistically call "the suburbs." The other one is in urban and rural areas with high rates of poverty. We will euphemistically call this America "the city," but it should be understood that it also refers to Indian reservations, Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and other high poverty areas.

"Arne Duncan and Obama Love School Testing"

In the America I grew up in, the suburbs, everyone takes the PSAT, because it is the test that qualifies you for National Merit Scholarship Money. In the city, not everyone takes the PSAT. This might be because your school doesn't offer it. Or you can't afford the testing fee of $14. Or you can't get a ride to school that day (a Saturday). Or you have to babysit your little brother. Or you have to work. Or your parents don't want you to go to college out of state (if you're a girl especially), or they don't want you to go to college at all.

In the city, your parents didn't go to college, so they don't know how to help you apply to college, even if they want you to go. They don't know about test prep books and test prep programs and The Fiske Guide and The Princeton Review. In the suburbs, where I grew up, your parents force all those books on you when you're a sophomore in high school.

In the America I grew up in, the suburbs, the school has plenty of athletic fields and offers nearly every sport that the state sports association offers. In the city, you can't hold softball and baseball practice at the same time, because both teams have to use the park across the street from the school. The football team and the boys' soccer team have to practice on alternate days, or organize their weight training schedules around each other. The ultimate frisbee team can't practice on the field at all. In the suburbs, most schools have ultimate frisbee teams. In the city, most schools don't know ultimate is a real sport. In the city, the track team practices by running up and down the sidewalk. If you're lucky enough to have a field or a track, it was paid for by a philanthropist.

In the suburbs, you never miss an athletic event because your bus didn't show up. In the city, this happens all. the. time. It just happened last week to an amazing, inspiring student with a physical disability who was about to compete in her first and only swim meet (it was the last meet of the season). She didn't get to compete.

In the suburbs, no one will let you drop out of high school without a fight. In the city, they don't have time to track you down if you don't show up.

In the suburbs, your parents take you to a psychiatrist so that you can get diagnosed with ADHD or an anxiety disorder because you want extended time on standardized tests. In the city, you think extended time makes you look like a dumb kid, so you turn down the offer.

In the city, you constantly have to write thank-you notes to the wealthy donors who are helping to pay for your education because the state can't pay for it.

In the city, you tell your teachers to work in the suburbs because you think it would be better for their careers.

If this doesn't make you angry, then I don't know what would.