Last week David Brooks wrote a fairly contrarian article in the New York Times describing, what he called, “The Opportunity Gap.” In short, since the gap between the 1% and the 99% has grown to the highest point in the history of this great country, the opportunity for people to make the leap from one class group to another has reduced as well. Since the “middle class,” the pride of America since World War II, has been reduced to a mere concept, it is impossible to leap to and from it.
Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.
It’s not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached. Social trust has fallen among all income groups, but, between 1975 and 1995, it plummeted among the poorest third of young Americans and has remained low ever since.
It’s the ultimate no-duh statement. Rich kids have more opportunities than poor ones. Brooks forgets to write that minorities all across the country live this out every day, too afraid to paint or write. This listlessness prevents them from becoming doctors, lawyers and bankers. But also from growing as artists.
Author Michelle Alexander touched upon this idea six months ago in a much different context. In writing possibly the most real book of 2012, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander discusses how many minor and nonviolent offenses lead to incarcerations of African Americans simply due to a lack of financial backing, legal knowledge and availability, as well as a myriad of other issues. This applies to the child scenario as well. Daddy will pay off the DUI for his perfect angel but the poor kid doesn’t have a lawyer. Thus, it cannot be an opportunity gap. Instead, a gap of rights exist, masked by the words “rich” and “poor.”
These “self-segregated, cultural ghettoes” of financial stability and race, that Brooks mentions, propagate this new Jim Crow. These colorless pockets of the country refuse to discuss race and pretending it doesn’t exist. In doing so there is no need to fix any problem with the U.S.A.. They simply go through the motions to create more status quo – bland, flavorless bankers, doctors, and lawyers, equipped to make money.
But education was supposed to be the great equalizer. It’s great you see! Send the kids to college and they will move from one class to another! The jobs will be there! Now that is as believable as Santa Claus (sorry kids).
To equal the financial backing of a 1% child, student loans, both private and federal, are the ONLY way to jump forward and pay for an education many deem necessary. To pay for those loans, which reached a total of 1 trillion dollars of debt on June 6, there have to be jobs. But there are only so many jobs for the 1% (provided they don’t piss it all away on booze and drugs and even THEN will still get the job) while the rest of the country is chasing for the job to bring them, if they are lucky, into the top half.
Right now, to me, there is an educational choke hold on the artistic youth. Colleges are vastly overpriced and so too the loans that come with them. They breed a status quo that says education is essential to living. But they – the universities and their offspring, our favorite bankers, doctors and lawyers – will never hire the kid who lacks a perfect resume. 1 person gets the job, 99 walk away feeling they have to work at Jimmie Johns to avoid another 10k private loan for a semester of expenses. No wonder these kids are “pessimistic and detached.”
The arts are the marines of education, the first to go and the last to know. Theatre, art, and music programs get cut, marginalized, and deemed “not necessary” for math and science. Guess what: those fields are not only saturated but are already killing this country by creating financial messes and addicting the population to drugs all in the name of profits. Greed is good. Gordon Gecko isn’t the villain anymore. He is the role model. So the government will bail out the banks, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals, but don’t dare to give a fraction of that to the arts.
In that way, Brooks article illuminates (by not mentioning it) the real problem in America: a lack of a balanced education. There isn’t support for it. The country flourished by making our youth creative lightning rods. But instead the arts are now reduced to mere entertainment. If your talent is in graphic design, sculpting, painting, guitar playing or even writing (the most self-venerated spot in the university, where all farts go to be smelled and critiqued over a first-flush darjeeling), you shouldn’t have to decide between debt, your love, and selling out.
There is no New Deal in place to encourage new art in a time of financial misery. FDR had it right after the Depression: Bail out EVERYBODY. Give opportunity to all fields, not just those that created the mess in the first place. As long as our government has no “artists” or “creatives” in seats of power, the only chance for our kids is ourselves.
And god willing, I won’t be the only one saying “Don’t get a degree in economics.”