School reform. Is it really about teacher training, curriculum materials, and achievement tests? Maybe not. Let’s look at an original and quite different approach to school reform.
In a previous report, I highlighted a great American myth. That myth is IQ. We want to think that everyone has the same mental ability, but it just isn’t true, and one hundred years of research back up this conclusion. I refer to this in my book, The Elephant in the Classroom. IQ, along with self-control, motivation, and the ability to focus, make up the four legs of “the elephant in the room” that are critical for legitimate college-level academic success.
But there is another factor that is even more secreted and veiled, and even more profound and objectionable, especially to those of us who peer through rose-colored glasses and wish everyone could achieve equally in school and in the workplace. Social scientists refer to this concept as socio-economic class. What’s scary about this phenomenon is that it appears to be highly resistant to change and even those with higher mental abilities may not be able to break through its ceiling to achieve higher levels.
Sociologists divide people into three general classes: the upper class is comprised of the richest people in society. They are often born into wealth and this wealth passes from generation to generation. The middle class is made up of people who fall socioeconomically between the lower and upper classes. Middle-class workers are sometimes called white-collar workers and in the United States most hold employment positions that require a college degree.
People falling in the lower socio-economic class are usually employed in low-paying jobs with little economic security. Some of these people are long-term unemployed and/or homeless, especially those receiving government welfare.
Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the “Economic Mobility Project” of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths. “Harder for Americans to Rise from Lower Rungs,” Jason DeParle, New York Times, Jan. 4, 2012.
I believe we fear the concept of socio-economic class even more than IQ and perhaps this is why research in this area seems to have waned. When we Americans make up our minds to champion a project or goal such as fairness and equality, we tend not to accept or even acknowledge contradictory scientific findings.