Sunday, July 24, 2011

Soccer, Horatio Alger, and the feds

Lately we've been getting a modern-day equivalent of the Horatio Alger myth in public discourse: if we all just worked a little harder, a little longer, we'd be successful.  It's the "pull yourself up by your bootstrap" view of the world.  In schools this has been ratcheted up.  


The honors student is well aware of how many items must be on the resume (volunteer work, club presidencies, multiple AP classes, etc. etc.) in order to get into the top schools in hopes of securing a fruitful career.  For students who struggle there is more drill-and-kill, longer days, more homework.  Teachers are being told to just work harder, longer in order to see success with students - longer days, larger classes (less pay)--all part of the new reform. 


The Alger story has long been used to victimize the victim: it implies that the American Dream is in within everyone's reach.  You just have to work hard enough--not just two minimum wage jobs but three.  If you haven't succeeded then you have no one to blame but yourself.


But even Alger admitted at the time (our last Gilded Age) that the "modern age did not guarantee success through hard work alone; there had to be some providential assistance as well."


Enter the Women's soccer team. A week ago the American team shocked the world by advancing to the finals of the World Soccer cup.  In an interview with four of the players, Rachel Maddow asked them what advice they would give to countries who haven't fielded successful teams.


Their answer was to invest in their youth programs.  You know, provide some "providential assistance."
Women's teams have been performing at the top of the world in recent years because the promise of Title IX has come into its own.


This federal legislation made sure that women were offered the same opportunities as men on the athletic playing filed.  For every dollar spent on men's programs in public institutions an equal amount should be spent on the women.


The difference between the programs of my childhood and those of today is stark.  We could be cheerleaders and play half-court basketball in gym.  Today a girl can choose from among several sports a season, and the top players compete just as aggressively as the men.  The spillover from athletics shows up in self-confidence, health, access to education, and improved leadership abilities.  


And on the world stage, the American women dominate and we all celebrate: winners again.


The role of the federal government should be to assure that those who have the least are given a leg up to reach their full potential, not a punishment for failing to be born into a privileged class.


We need a public schooling system that does the same: provides the same quality education for all children regardless of their station in life. That is a role the Federal government can fulfill.


We did it for soccer.  We could do it for education.


Save Our Schools March demand number one: Equitable funding for all public school communities.  See you July 30 for the march.