Why do we keep insisting that education can solve poverty?



JB: Well that sounds easy enough. We’ll just just address those fundamental questions about class, race, power and inequality. You go first.


HK: It’s not that easy, in part because in the system we have now education is so key to the allocation of opportunity. People who have the most resources preserve their advantages and continue to operate in ways that serve those advantages. It’s a strange paradox, but it’s almost as though the more we try to increase opportunity, the more we increase inequality. It happens largely because upper middle class parents, knowing that education has become this allocative mechanism and the key gateway to preserving one’s advantage, do everything they can to make sure that their kids will have access to the resources that preserve those advantages.


So even while education policy is focused on the schools that poor kids attend, we’re not addressing the inequalities that have to do with the advantages richer parents have and work so hard to maintain. It works to create more inequality at the same time that it can’t really do anything about the other things that are really driving income inequality: minimum wages, unions, tax policy, the concentration of income at the top. So we have this strange situation where we’re trying to address educational inequality while economic inequality is expanding in ways that make educational inequality even worse. We don’t address that kind of paradox at all.


JB: You just used the word paradox. I’d like to throw another *p* word into the mix: plutocrat. I’m thinking, of course, about the outsized role played by billionaires in trying to *fix* our schools while benefiting from the income inequality that you argue is beyond the power of schools to fix.



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