Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's all about your 'hood, a social commentary

I had an anecdote that I was thinking about sharing after reading GertyZ's recent post Calling in reinforcements where she had to defend the following position: 2. people, in general, do not avoid getting jobs so they can collect unemployment I was leaning toward not sharing, since as GertyZ pointed out in her post, there are always exceptions and individual examples that can be used to make a point. Then I had a phone conversation today that pushed me the other way. So here we go:

I grew up in a tough inner city neighborhood. It wasn't dangerous, but it was a lower class neighborhood where if your parents spoke English and had a GED you were above the norm. I still have family in the area so I am still actively interested in what's going on there. Growing up, my next door neighbors had 4 children. 2 boys and 2 girls. The kids were roughly my age. Their parents were on welfare. They we were decent kids, and I remember their dad talking to my dad one day specifically where he was really proud because one of their kids was on the honor role and had won some award.

None of the 4 kids finished high school, they all dropped out after they had turned 16, even the honors student. They had completed more school than their parents. The guys worked occasionally, but they've been off and on welfare since then. The two girls both got pregnant and eventually married. Today, one has 4 kids, the other 6. Also both on welfare.

While many of the extreme conservatives will say that this is why we need to get rid of welfare, I would never say this. This is part of a much, much bigger and more complicated societal problem.

In my grade school graduating class, about 80% finished high school and out of those maybe half went to college. Most are living in the same neighborhood today. Almost everyone finished more school than their parents, but JUST BARELY. That's what worries me. That's what we need to fix.

The NSF wants everyone to do outreach and to motivate the next generation of scientists and engineers in their grant proposals, so I thought I would try to partner with my grade school, to show kids there that it is possible to do better. I wanted to help them out, I don't have money yet to donate, but I wanted to give something back in this way.

Problem 1. The outreach person at my university says you can't just go out and help schools. I should work with schools that are already partnered on programs with the university. News flash, those are already pretty good schools. Sure they are usually not the special math academy, but in general, I would say they are the average schools, not the ones at the bottom. The kids that come to visit labs know that there are labs to visit.

Problem 2. I went ahead and contacted my school, told them I was an alumnus that wanted to help them out. It took them two weeks just to return my phone call. No one at the school had ever heard of the NSF, or that there are university outreach programs, or had any idea how one would work. I tried to explain it to them. I asked them for their input. What do they need to get their kids to do better at math and science? Today the principal told me that they're not sure they want my help, they are pretty happy with the curriculum that have in place now.

1 comment:

  1. Damn that sucks. I'm from a comforatbly middle-class white suburban background, but am the first generation of that after my parents used the military to give themselves leverage in life.

    at my institute I spent a lot of time working on a grant to try and partner with some of our minority-serving institutions in the area (obviously post-HS, but anyway...). It was killed in the final stages by the greybeards. "too much work fr too little return".

    They weren't even going to have to do anything except put their fucking names on a piece of paper.