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Study: Poor Kids Who Believe in Meritocracy Suffer - The Atlantic
"A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to act out and engage in risky behavior."



"Brighton Park is a predominantly Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s a neighborhood threatened by poverty, gang violence, ICE raids, and isolation—in a city where income, race, and zip code can determine access to jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. It is against this backdrop that the Chicago teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett arrived at the neighborhood’s elementary school in 2014.

Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.

“Students who are told that things are fair implode pretty quickly in middle school as self-doubt hits them,” he said, “and they begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”

Barrett’s personal observation is validated by a newly published study in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development that finds traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years. The research is considered the first evidence linking preteens’ emotional and behavioral outcomes to their belief in meritocracy, the widely held assertion that individual merit is always rewarded.

“If you’re in an advantaged position in society, believing the system is fair and that everyone could just get ahead if they just tried hard enough doesn’t create any conflict for you … [you] can feel good about how [you] made it,” said Erin Godfrey, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School. But for those marginalized by the system—economically, racially, and ethnically—believing the system is fair puts them in conflict with themselves and can have negative consequences.

“If the system is fair, why am I seeing that everybody who has brown skin is in this kind of job? You’re having to think about that … like you’re not as good, or your social group isn’t as good,” Godfrey said. “That’s the piece … that I was trying to really get at [by studying] these kids.”

The findings build upon a body of literature on “system justification”—a social-psychology theory that believes humans tend to defend, bolster, or rationalize the status quo and see overarching social, economic, and political systems as good, fair, and legitimate. System justification is a distinctively American notion, Godfrey said, built on myths used to justify inequities, like “If you just work hard enough you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps … it’s just a matter of motivation and talent and grit.” Yet, as she and her colleagues discovered, these beliefs can be a liability for disadvantaged adolescents once their identity as a member of a marginalized group begins to gel—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and their group."



"David Stovall, professor of educational-policy studies and African American studies at University of Illinois at Chicago, said the paper is a confirmation of decades of analysis on the education of marginalized and isolated youth. It’s a “good preliminary piece” that lays the foundation for more academic study of historically disenfranchised adolescents and their motivations, he said.

“If young folks see themselves being discriminated against, they’ve been told that a system is fair, and they experience things that are unfair, they will begin to reject this particular system and engage in behaviors that will not be to their betterment,” he explained. Stovall said it’s critical to guide young people from “defiant resistance”—defying what they’ve learned to be untrue regarding a just and fair system for all—to “transformative resistance”—developing a critical understanding of the historical context of U.S. society. Educators, he said, play a crucial role in this work.

“We have to ask different questions around school,” he said. “Does [school] contribute further to our [students’] marginalization and oppression? Is it just about order, compliance, and white normative standards that marginalized young folks of color don’t measure up to because the structure never intended for them to measure up?” He also warned educators and youth of color to be prepared for pushback, highlighting the current legal battle over the ethnic-studies ban in Tucson public schools despite its proven academic benefits.

Mildred Boveda, an assistant education professor at Arizona State University, likewise said the findings hold important implications for both teachers and teacher education. “This is of great consequence to … teachers who may think they are protecting children by avoiding conversations about systems of oppressions,” she said, emphasizing that the onus is also on teacher-prep programs to ensure aspiring educators know how to address these controversial topics.

Given her recent experience teaching fifth-graders in Miami-Dade, Florida, Boveda disagrees with the researchers’ notion that sixth-graders lack a full understanding of social hierarchies. Her students on the brink of middle school, she noted, were hyper-aware of social inequalities. Still, she sees valuable insights in the data.

“Unlike the majority of the teaching workforce, I once fit the demographics of the students in this study,” she said, alluding to the fact that more than 80 percent of public-school teachers are white. “I will admit that it sometimes felt risky to tackle these difficult conversations, but this [research] underscores why we cannot equivocate when it comes to preparing our children to face injustices.”"
melindaanderson  meritocracy  inequality  xianfranzingerbarrett  2017  race  racism  eringodfrey  education  schools  systemjustification  statusquo  society  grit  americandream  bootstraps  davidstovall  oppression  defince  resistance  mildredboveda  youth  adolescence  classism  stereotypes 
july 2017 by robertogreco
What To Read When You Want To Make America Great Again - The Rumpus.net
"Next Tuesday, we celebrate our country. A country that seems to be imploding with every passing presidential tweet. A country that has failed to care for the most vulnerable while those in power grow richer. Celebrating the Fourth this year feels a bit like going out for dinner with a cheating spouse.

But it’s important to remember that America is not our leaders, America is us. In that vein, here are some books that help remind us what actually makes America great (hint: it’s not tax cuts). Some of these books are problematic; others contain racism (looking at you Ma and Pa Ingalls); still more are jubilant, triumphant, and full of hope. But each highlights a real aspect of America, good or bad, and hopefully can remind us that what makes America great are the voices of the people who call this messy place home.

***

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov:
As Rumpus Senior Features Editor Julie Greicius pointed out, “Lolita, oddly enough, is a brilliant foreigner’s felonious road trip across America, with Lolita herself as metaphor of a country too young to understand what crime is being committed against her.”

The Federalist Papers by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
A collection of eight-five articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Go check out what two of our Founding Fathers hoped America might be.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The American dream, sans happy ending. So, real life?

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
A Newbery Medal-winning book about racism in America during the Great Depression. Taylor explores life in southern Mississippi, when racism was still common in the South and many were persecuted for the color of their skin.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Rankine recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost—and what they find—is revealed in fifteen interconnected stories that span over thirty years.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Told in a series of vignettes—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous—this is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.

Snopes: A Trilogy by William Faulkner
A saga that stands as perhaps the greatest feat of Faulkner’s imagination. “For all his concerns with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man,” noted Ralph Ellison. “Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics.”

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A series of American children’s novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder based on her childhood in the northern Midwestern United States during the 1870s and 1880s. Eight were completed by Wilder, and published by Harper & Brothers from 1932 and 1943. The first draft of a ninth novel was published posthumously in 1971 and is commonly included in the Little House series.

The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez
Lyrical and gritty, this authentic coming-of-age story about a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas insightfully illuminates a little-understood corner of America.

Native Guard by Natasha Tretheway
Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South, where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey’s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez
Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.

The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
This authoritative volume makes sense of that vast and confusing “second American Revolution” we call the Civil War, a war that transformed a nation and expanded our heritage of liberty.

Bear, Diamonds and Crane by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
In this collection, personal narratives take their place alongside group stories, “the wound” that “resists erasure and cultural amnesia. […] the image of barbed wire.” Kageyama-Ramakrishnan reflects on the life of her grandmother, who “acquiesced on impulse” to marry and move to the United States on the U.S.S. Jackson as well as on stories from Manzanar, the concentration camp where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.

Poeta en San Francisco by Barbara Jane Reyes
Poeta en San Francisco incorporates English, Spanish, and Tagalog in a book-length poem at once lush and experimentally rigorous. From the vantage of San Francisco, Reyes looks outward to the Philippines, Vietnam, and other colonized places with violent histories.

Thomas and Beluah by Rita Dove
Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Thomas and Beulah tells the semi-fictionalized chronological story of Dove’s maternal grandparents, the focus being on her grandfather (Thomas, his name in the book as well as in real life) in the first half and her grandmother (named Beulah in the book, although her real name was Georgianna) in the second.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy."
books  booklists  us  history  society  via:anne  americanexperience  2017  immigration  assimilation  race  class  americandream  vladimirnabokov  jamesmadison  alexanderhamilton  johnjay  chimamandangoziadichie  fscottfitzgerald  mildredtaylor  claudiarankine  julialavarez  sandracisneros  williamfaulkner  laurauingallswilder  domingomartinez  natashatretheway  christinahernandez  jamesbaldwin  jamesmcpherson  clairekageyama-ramakrishnan  barbarajanereyes  ritadove  imbolombue  diversity 
july 2017 by robertogreco
How the Myth of the Meritocracy Ruins Students
"The inequitable outcome of the meritocracy is hiding in plain sight in every facet of society - in schools, workplaces, prisons and neighborhoods. We don't like inequality and we're alarmed by how fast the underclass is growing, but we believe that it's a fact of life because, let's face it, some people are just better than others. Most of us, liberals included, are to varying degrees beholden to the Myth of the Meritocracy.

Liberals are all for trying to level the playing field. We support basic civil rights measures that prohibit blatant discrimination and affirmative action programs that groom the cream of the crop for middle-class membership. But for all the leveling that has supposedly occurred since Martin Luther King Jr.'s time, things are still very lopsided. King's dream of economic equality was sidelined, because most Americans believe that once the shackles of overt discrimination are removed, the next logical step is for everyone to compete for as big a share of the spoils as possible.

We raise our kids to aspire to the "American Dream," which is understood to extend the promise of upward mobility only to the winners of the rat race. Theoretically, every individual has the opportunity to win the competition and live the dream. But so long as there are winners and losers (with outcomes largely predetermined at birth), the "American Dream" is a Trump-like zero-sum game, and our misplaced allegiance to it has led to nightmarish levels of inequality and social breakdown. As the late George Carlin said, "It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."

Meritocracy is taken for granted as part of the natural order but, in reality, it's a political choice. The alternative to meritocracy is the organized, formal redistribution of wealth on the basis of need, not achievement, but this notion is not (yet) given air time because it upsets the Myth of the Meritocracy. What if some loser gets something he doesn't deserve? What if I have taken away something I deserve to keep?

There's a "me" and there's a "them," and they're in competition and conflict. We'd rather they be homeless, imprisoned, deported or fired than take what we believe is rightfully ours. There is, it seems, a little bit of The Donald in all of us.

We've been conditioned to prefer a society in which everyone has at least some chance of climbing to the top to one in which everyone's basic needs are met. And so it is. And so our society unravels because we'd rather fight each other and fetishize individual success than share.

This reflex to compete rather than cooperate stems from the modern delusion that humans are separate from one another and from nature. When we pause to reflect, we can readily sense and observe that all beings are interconnected and our fates intertwined. But we don't pause to reflect, because we're too busy reacting defensively to perceived threats to our well-being, threats that are amplified 24-7 by the media.

The biggest actual threat to our well-being is the hyper-individualist ethic that frightens us into participating in the war of all against all, the endgame of which is social collapse and, at the rate we're plundering a natural world we feel disconnected from, human extinction.

Dr. King said:
We must see that whatever diminishes the poor diminishes everybody else. And the salvation of the poor will mean the salvation of the whole nation. For we're all tied together in an inescapable network of mutuality. We are tied in a single garment of destiny.

Our culture conditions us to believe the opposite - that each of us can and must strive to rise above the fray. Schools do their part, training children to put a premium on personal excellence or be condemned to a lifetime of drudgery, poverty and, most horrifying of all, low status.

We can abolish homework and testing. We can turn classrooms into innovative hands-on laboratories of learning. We can tell our kids that their lives will be just as happy with a degree from a community college as from Princeton. We can run programs for at-risk youth and, with enough progressive elected officials in office, we can even wrangle some extra money for public schools.

And we should do all of those things. But so long as we focus on each individual child's success rather than the collective well-being of all children and families, we will not be able to extricate our children from the corrosive zero-sum game of "race to the top or get left behind" they are forced to play. So long as we remain trapped in the meritocratic arena, we ensure a mean and uncertain future for our children, a future in which most will be consigned to the underclass and even those closer to the top will unhappily strive to surpass thy neighbor.

Politics and culture keep the Myth of the Meritocracy alive. Market fundamentalism ensures high levels of economic inequality that have people worried enough to want to elbow their fellow citizens (and non-citizens) out of the race. Culturally, we're conditioned from such an early age to enter the race to the top and to believe that those at the top belong there, that we never consider what it would look like to cooperate instead of compete.

It doesn't have to be this way. The United States is blessed with more than enough to go around, enough food, enough medicine, enough housing, enough money to create space for every child to graduate from a university or vocational college and earn a decent living doing something they enjoy. We just need to get better at sharing and cooperating.

That, in the end, is our choice: Redistribute wealth equitably and invest in schools that honor and inspire students or force our children to run the gauntlet, knowing that only a fraction of them will succeed and the rest eliminated like Celebrity Apprentice contestants. Either Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream will be realized, or Trump's will."
meritocracy  society  ericaetelson  competition  capitalism  2015  inequality  wealthredistribution  wealth  politics  culture  us  learning  children  poverty  privilege  georgecarlin  mutuality  martinlutherkingjr  individualism  japan  collectivism  socialism  communism  americandream  socialsafetynet  economics  injustice  unfairness  race  racism  classism  class  libertarianism  success  virtue  work  labor  motivation  education  schools  racetonowhere  mlk 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Leon Botstein for Democracy Journal: Are We Still Making Citizens?
[via: http://willrichardson.com/post/115896934920/on-secret-keeping-and-forgetting ]

"Democracy requires a commitment to the public good. But for a long time now, our citizens have been taught to see themselves as only private actors."



"What the European émigrés discovered was a reality that partially resembled these principles. They saw from the outside, as it were, how vital the connection is between how we structure our schools and our capacity to maintain a functioning pluralist democracy. John Dewey, America’s greatest thinker on education since Mann, guided the ideology of public education. For Dewey, the justification for the proper pedagogy was not primarily political; his conception of teaching and learning derived largely from an epistemological conceit within Pragmatism. But for the European émigrés, the contrast between the school systems from which they came and the school system in the country in which they arrived—the virtue and attraction of American educational practice—was significant in terms of its political consequences.

In those years, the defining factor in the American system was the idea of a single, unitary public school system in which everybody enrolled. All citizens went to the same sort of schools through to the end of secondary school. Private schools were an elite phenomenon and relatively insignificant. Most European public systems, by contrast, were intentionally segregated by ability, creating distinct groups beginning at age 11. The state, using examinations, divided the school population into varying categories, each of which maintained a different track. The majority of citizens never completed school beyond elementary school. Some percentage went on to vocational schooling. A very small segment of the population went, as adolescents, either to a humanistic academic high school (Gymnasium) or to a less prestigious practical and science-oriented high school (Realschule) and received a secondary-school diploma. A Matura or Abitur, the diploma from these two types of secondary schools, permitted an elite student to enroll in the university.

Consequently, the unitary public school system that kept all children together until college and that built citizens of character, devoted to democratic values, was viewed by the émigré generation as a marvel. American education appeared to fit the idea that the nation and democracy were tied to a homogeneity of rights, and that diverse constituencies could not only obtain equal legal status but through education achieve the means to realize it in economic and social terms. Citizenship via a nominally nondiscriminatory and standard process accessible to all irrespective of birth, religion, ethnicity, or even language was unheard of in Europe, but it—and the concrete advantages education added—seemed possible in America.

Higher education was no less eye-opening. Undergraduates delayed specialization and studied more than one subject. They were, from the start, asked to do far more writing that called for the expression of their own arguments and judgments. What was equally shocking to a European was the way in which the American university system seemed immensely flexible and open to new ideas. There was not a rigid hierarchy with one professor running each “faculty.” Young scholars did not have to wait for their elders to retire or die. The university was able to create new fields and new positions. Not only was there less hierarchy and formality, but in graduate education there was even less deference to authority than in the public school system. The dissenter, rebel, and ambitious entrepreneur were prized more than in Europe. In terms of graduate education and academic career advancement, American university practice still stands in contrast to that of Europe.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the academic standards by which the American common school system operated seemed horrifically low. The price paid by the democratic culture of the American school system, the émigré observers concluded, was the low level of shared culture achieved at the end of secondary public education. Freshmen could not read or write properly, and they possessed little understanding of literature, art, philosophy, or history. The thinly veiled (at best) snobbery of the mid-century émigré scholars simply exploded when their members (such as Werner Jaeger, Leo Strauss, and Kurt Wolff) came to teach American college students."



"I distrust private languages and the tendency to rely on one’s personal narrative as the basis for talking about politics and, in particular, education, understood as a political good. The personal narrative is always contingent on those outside of it. What a child has to learn in school is not only to formulate a personal narrative but also to set it aside; children need to listen, to observe others, and thereby to distinguish their personal narrative from those of others as each individual constructs a role as a citizen. However, the two imperatives—personal growth and citizenship—don’t appear naturally to overlap. A child needs to learn things that allow him or her to function in a democratic context, to learn to consciously ignore personal self-interest and contemplate the public good. What a common public school ought to teach, therefore, is the capacity for disagreement, contest, and compromise. But if I think public goods are irrelevant, that we can do without government, I automatically subscribe to a kind of illusion of individualism against which criticism is hard, since the point of having a discussion or debate—the creation of the public space of a shared participatory politics—is rejected."



"The project of public education is fundamental to the notion of public goods in America. The restoration of public education seems a precondition for making the public sphere operate properly. Education must be about something more than personal happiness and benefit, economically defined; it has to map out the idea that there is more to the public good than the belief that through some free-market-style calculus of aggregate self-interests, the greatest good for the greatest number will emerge. In other words, public education is about educating the future citizen to consider a common ground in politics that can and will secure a more rewarding notion of personal security and tranquility for all.

But in the context of today’s disenchantment with the public sphere, what can a school-trained citizen do? Merely compete in the marketplace? Work for Google? What actually defines the public sphere today is not the government and Congress, but Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Conspiracy theorists when I was young pointed to the presence of socialists and communists who were said to undermine our system of values. Fear seemed reasonable in the Cold War and under the threat of nuclear war. The line between fear and paranoia was thin indeed. Fear was plausible.

But the people who frighten me and undermine the public sphere today are not terrorists and ideologues interested in overthrowing the government; they are not even those who work for the U.S. government within the NSA or the CIA. Rather, I’m afraid of the very large corporate giants that control our access to information, regulate our private lives by providing social networks—a platform for deceptive intimacy—and monitor every move we make in life and preserve a record of every message, thereby rendering secret-keeping and forgetting—two essential human experiences—impossible."



"So where does this bring us with regard to education? As a practitioner of education, I still hold to the idea that the most difficult and yet most vital thing to do is to construct and sustain a language of public conversation. And that language of public conversation will inevitably be different from our several private languages. We cannot expect it to be the same. The conversation on matters that affect us all has to take place in real space and time. School is one source of that essential opportunity.

One of the depressing aspects of our politics today is the extent to which our candidates think it is enough to be a personality and to rely on a private language in order to get elected. We are more interested in the personalities of our politicians, as if they were our neighbors or private friends, than we are in what they think. Today’s politicians cannot speak a comprehensible language of ideas in public conversation about public goods, the matters at stake in politics. We have lost the taste for a sustained debate about ideas.

To confront this lack of public discourse based on ideas—ideas bolstered by claims and evidence subject to open scrutiny—public education needs to work. It needs to create a community of very diverse citizens who are able to occupy a public space in which they can negotiate matters of shared concern, from foreign affairs to domestic policy, using a shared language. The Internet does not offer such a platform, nor does the virtual space or Facebook or any other social media.

I therefore think that we need to redouble the defense of a single system of public education to which our citizens have free access. We need to resist the privatization of schooling. That does not mean that every school should look alike. But since we will continue to be (I hope) an immigrant nation, we will have to champion a public school system if we are to reconcile increasing differences, inequalities of wealth, and class distinctions into a functioning, dynamic democracy made up of citizens.

I share the émigré generation’s quite romantic optimism for the potential of a democratic school system, one marked by excellence and equity. I think such a system is worth fighting for. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic. There is evidence that we can improve schools. A welcome first step would be to instill in the best of our current college students and future … [more]
leonbostein  democracy  publicschools  civics  citizenship  2015  individualism  collectivism  publicgood  education  society  us  privatization  government  disagreement  debate  participation  capitalism  hannaharendt  hansweil  christianmackauer  progressive  progressivism  freedom  interdependence  independence  politics  learning  johndewey  egalitarianism  americandream  equality  inequality  generalists  specialization  hierarchy  informality  formality  horizontality  standards  standardization  competition  universities  colleges  highered  highereducation  criticalthinking  accessibility  europe  history  leostrauss  kurtwolff  wernerjaeger  jacobklein  robertmaynardhutchins  stringfellowbarr  heinrichblücher  elitism  privateschools  content  process  methodology  pedagogy  howweteach  howwelearn  purpose  sputnik  truth  canon  discourse  isolation  technology  internet  schooling  schooliness  science  wikipedia  communication  language  eliascanetti  teaching  information  research 
april 2015 by robertogreco
The American Way over the Nordic Model? Are we crazy? - LA Times
"In my long nomadic life, I've been to both poles and most countries in between. I still remember when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world.

Today, as one of 1.6 million Americans living in Europe, I instead face hard questions about our nation. Wherever I travel, Europeans, Asians and Africans ask expatriates like me to explain everything odd or troubling about the conduct of the United States. Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, ask pointedly about America's trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and "exceptionality."

Their questions share a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy?

At the absolute top of the list: "Why would anyone oppose national healthcare?" Many countries have had some form of national healthcare since the 1930s, Germany since 1880. Some versions, as in France and Britain, have devolved into two-tier public and private systems. Yet even the privileged would not begrudge their fellow citizens government-funded comprehensive healthcare. That so many Americans do strikes Europeans as baffling, if not brutal.

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially progressive in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program is a big part — but only a part — of a more general social welfare system. In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have access to free education from age 6 through specialty training or university; low cost, subsidized preschool; unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining; paid parental leave; old age pensions, and more. These benefits are not a "safety net" — that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy. They are universal: equally available as a human right, promoting social harmony.

In the Scandinavian countries, long considered to be the most socially progressive in the world, a national (physical and mental) health program is a big part — but only a part — of a more general social welfare system. In Norway, where I live, all citizens also have access to free education from age 6 through specialty training or university; low cost, subsidized preschool; unemployment benefits, job-placement and paid retraining; paid parental leave; old age pensions, and more. These benefits are not a "safety net" — that is, charitable payments grudgingly bestowed upon the needy. They are universal: equally available as a human right, promoting social harmony.

This is the Nordic Model: a balance of regulated capitalism, universal social welfare, political democracy and the highest levels of gender and economic equality on the planet. It's their system, begun in Sweden in the 1930s and developed across Scandinavia in the postwar period. Yes, they pay for it through high taxation. (Though compared with the U.S. tax code, Norway's progressive income tax is remarkably streamlined.) And despite the efforts of an occasional conservative government to muck it up, they maintain it. Why?

They like it. International rankings cite Norway as the best place to grow old, to be a woman and to raise a child. The title of "best" or "happiest" place to live on Earth comes down to a neighborly contest among Norway and the neighboring Nordic social democracies, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.

All the Nordic countries broadly agree that only when people's basic needs are met — when they cease to worry about jobs, education, healthcare, transportation, etc. — can they truly be free to do as they like. While the U.S. settles for the fantasy that every kid has an equal shot at the American dream, Nordic social welfare systems lay the foundations for a more authentic equality and individualism.

These ideas are not novel. They are implied in the preamble to our own Constitution. You know, the part about "We the People" forming "a more perfect Union" to "promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Knowing this, a Norwegian is appalled at what America is doing to its posterity today. That top chief executives are paid 300 to 400 times as much as an average employee. Or that Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey, having run up their state's debts by cutting taxes for the rich, now plan to cover the loss with money snatched from public pension funds. That two-thirds of American college students finish in the red, some owing $100,000 or more. That in the U.S., still the world's richest country, 1 in 3 children lives in poverty. Or that the multitrillion-dollar wars of Presidents George W. Bush and Obama were fought on a credit card, to be paid off by the kids.

Implications of America's uncivilized inhumanity lurk in the questions foreign observers ask me: Why can't you shut down that concentration camp in Cuba? Why can't you stop interfering with women's healthcare? What is it about science and climate change you can't understand?

And the most pressing question of all: Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up trouble for all of us?

Europeans often connect America's reckless conduct abroad to its refusal to put its own house in order. They've watched the United States unravel its flimsy safety net, fail to replace decaying infrastructure, weaken organized labor, bring its national legislature to a standstill and create the greatest degree of economic inequality in almost a century. As they see it, with ever less personal security and next to no social welfare system, Americans are bound to be anxious and fearful. They understand as well why so many Americans have lost trust in a national government that for three decades has done so little for them (save Obama's endlessly embattled modest healthcare effort).

In Norway's capital, where a statue of a contemplative President Franklin D. Roosevelt overlooks the harbor, many America-watchers think he may have been the last U.S. president who understood and could explain to the citizenry what government might do for all of them.

It's hard to pin down why America is as it is today, and — believe me — even harder to explain it to others. Some Europeans who interrogate me say that the U.S. is "crazy" — or "paranoid," "self-absorbed," or simply "behind the times." Others, more charitably, imply that Americans are merely "misguided" or "asleep" and may still recover sanity. But wherever I travel, the questions follow, each suggesting that the United States, if not exactly crazy, is decidedly a danger to itself and others."
2015  annejones  us  healthcare  healthinsurance  socialsafetynet  scandinavia  norway  germany  uk  europe  inequality  equality  americandream  progressivism  socialism  capitalism  politics  policy  parentalleave  pensions  universality  nordiccountries  sweden  denmark  finland  iceland  individualism  equity  education  obamacare  affordablecareact  fdr 
january 2015 by robertogreco
James Surowiecki: Entrepreneurs, Con Artists, and the American Dream : The New Yorker
"It seems that con artists, for all their vices, represent many of the virtues that Americans aspire to. Con artists are independent and typically self-made. They don’t have to kowtow to a boss—no small thing in a country in which people have always longed to strike out on their own. They succeed or fail based on their wits. They exemplify, in short, the complicated nature of American capitalism, which, as McDougall argues, has depended on people being hustlers in both the positive and the negative sense. The American economy wasn’t built just on good ideas and hard work. It was also built on hope and hype.

[…]

Of course, the fundamental difference between entrepreneurs and con artists is that con artists ultimately know that the fantasies they’re selling are lies. Steve Jobs, often enough, could make those fantasies come true. Still, that unquantifiable mélange of risk, hope, and hype provides both the capitalist’s formula for transforming the world and the con artist’s stratagem for turning your money into his money. Maybe there’s a reason we talk about the American Dream."
americandream  entrepreneurship  entrepreneurs  conartists  jamessurowiecki  capitalism  2014  economics  hope  hype  success  hustling  culture  business  society 
january 2014 by robertogreco
Why Foreigners are Still Attracted to Detroit | PRI's The World
"I asked Murielle if she thinks Detroit is America. The answer: Detroit is as American as it gets."

"“I got driven to this hostel, because I arrived in the middle of the night, by the former mayor of Detroit, Ken Cockrel,” she said. “I was just sitting close to him and found out he was living quite close to the hostel. It’s just [that] people are very helpful.”

I asked her why on her first trip to the United States she is visiting Detroit, and not, say, New York.

“New York, you can go when you’re old, when you are 50 and you can afford it and it will be still the same,” she said. “Detroit, I came now because of a lot of coincidences I heard [about] what was going on here.”"
us  europe  cities  resilience  decay  americandream  2012  tourism  detroit 
june 2012 by robertogreco
America, get realistic and tax the rich | Marketplace From American Public Media
"And in that respect, the Brits are much more realistic than Americans. For all that the American Dream is woven into this country's culture, there's actually less social mobility here than in most of Europe. If you're born poor, you're much more likely to make it rich in a country like Sweden or even Canada than you are in the U.S.<br />
<br />
Countries that provide good resources for poorer families and have cheap or free university education are much more likely than America to see people working their way up the ladder. Americans oppose tax cuts because they think that even if they're not rich today, they might be tomorrow. But they're wrong about that. The American Dream is just a dream -- it is not based on reality."
taxes  us  uk  europe  socialmobility  income  money  americandream  2010  wealth 
october 2010 by robertogreco
The Last Psychiatrist: This Is Why The American Dream Is Out Of Reach [responding to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/business/economy/07generation.html?pagewanted=all]
"his parents themselves did not follow Scott's path: grandfather…& dad…were right at the start of businesses, they didn't slide into middle management at Sterility Corp. But after taking those chances that ultimately resulted in prosperity & blah blah blah, they taught their children to do the opposite: look for new parents. Someone else to pay the life insurance policy…<br />
<br />
The parents & grandparents, like so many parents today, are disappointed in their son because he's not taking their advice, but in fact their son is taking their advice to its inevitable conclusion: he's holding out for the perfect corporate job. What they meant to advise him was to improvise towards a career like hopping a creek; but what they taught him to do was wait for the package…<br />
<br />
Where Scott is going wrong is not that he is holding out for a "better" job that isn't there; he's holding out for a job that shouldn't be there. We don't need more corporate management guys…What we need are more businesses."
business  economics  economy  employment  management  parenting  psychology  success  entrepreneurship  us  americandream  risk  security  jobs  unemployment  greatrecession  risktaking  highered  bubbles  higheredbubble  generations 
august 2010 by robertogreco
"Mad Men": Stillbirth of the American dream - Heather Havrilesky - Salon.com
"Americans are constantly in search of an upgrade...sickness infused into our blood, dissatisfaction w/ ordinary instilled in us from childhood. Instead of staying connected to divine beauty & grace of everyday existence—glimmer of sunshine on grass, blessing of cool breeze on a summer day—we're instructed to hope for much more. Having been told repeated stories about fairest in land, most powerful, richest, most heroic (Snow White, Pokémon, Ronald McDonald, Lady Gaga), eventually we buy into these creation myths & concede their overwhelming importance in universe. Slowly we come to view our own lives as inconsequential, grubby, even intolerable.

Meanwhile, American dream itself has expanded into something far broader & less attainable than ever...tell us working same job for years is for suckers. We should be paid handsomely for our creative talents, should have freedom to travel & live wherever we like, our children should be exposed to the wonders of globe at early age."
via:lukeneff  madmen  americandream  satisfaction  well-being  us  empathy  socialmedia  sociology  mythology  psychology  culture  society  economics  desire  capitalism  tv  lifestyle  reality  glvo  tcsnmy  success  consumerism  work  fulfillment  travel  parenting  happiness  materialism  shrequest1 
august 2010 by robertogreco
A Modest Proposal: The New "Declaration of Interdependence" | Co.
"In ~240 years since Declaration was drafted, America's pursuit of geopolitical independence has helped it become most prosperous country world has ever seen. According to freedom indices that track business, trade, finance, speech & labor freedoms, US consistently ranks as one of top nations in world. But if you asked Americans today if they feel freer that they did just 10 years ago, what would they say?

America has mortgaged its future to maintain symbols of personal freedom (house, car, big screen TV) at expense of real freedom. We owe China almost one trillion $; our public education system is approaching collapse; &, we rank number 1 globally for obesity... America’s current understanding of freedom is unsustainable & raises question, “Are we really free?”...

To guide us in this new era we need to revisit this great work. We need to identify new enemies of freedom, create a new list of evidence, & make a new declaration that will guide us for next 100 years."

[via: http://twitter.com/jyri/status/17749196685 ]
us  declarationofindependence  tcsnmy  classideas  rewriting  writing  values  symbls  future  history  reset  purpose  americandream  independence  interdependence  stevemccallion 
july 2010 by robertogreco
When Less Was More - Opinionator Blog - NYTimes.com
"The popularity of simpler living made it possible for one American developer, William Levitt, to realize the prewar dream of the European modern architects to use industrialization for housing. During the war, Levitt had become an expert in mass-producing homes for shipyard workers in Virginia. When it ended, Levitt and his sons created a prototype 750-square-foot, one-floor house—with a living room, kitchen/dining area, two small bedrooms, a bathroom and an unfinished “expansion attic”—to fit on a 60 x 100 foot lot. Set on concrete slabs like those at the shipyards, the new houses were built quickly and cheaply on a sort of assembly line, with pre-cut lumber and nails shipped from the Levitts’ factories in California...
houses  housing  modernism  architecture  design  levittown  consumption  consumerism  americandream  excess  homes  history 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Rethinking the American Dream | vanityfair.com
"what about outmoded proposition that each successive generation in US must live better than one that preceded it?...no longer applicable to an American middle class that lives more comfortably than any...before...I’m no champion of downward mobility, but time has come to consider the idea of simple continuity: perpetuation of a contented, sustainable middle-class way of life, where standard of living remains happily constant from one generation to next. American Dream should require hard work...not require 80-hour workweeks & parents who never see kids from across dinner table...should entail first-rate education for every child not an education that leaves no extra time for actual enjoyment of childhood...should accommodate goal of home ownership without imposing lifelong burden of unmeetable debt. Above all...should be embraced as unique sense of possibility that this country gives its citizens—the decent chance, as Moss Hart would say, to scale the walls & achieve what you wish."
us  americandream  capitalism  sustainability  debt  education  happiness  well-being  society  culture  economics  history  money  identity  ideology  sociology  crisis  markets  families  homeownership  generations  upwardmobility  freedom  success  aspiration  credit  creditcards 
march 2009 by robertogreco

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