When Life Gives You Apples: American Children Left Behind

Many black and Latino children in America are given apples and expected to make lemonade.

In America, the achievement gap refers to the difference in Black, Latino, and White students’ average levels of educational achievement (Young). White youth achieve more on average than black and Latino youth. Only 72% of black and Latino youth in America graduated high school in 2012, while 85% of white students graduated nationwide. In 2013, only 4.6 million black and Latino high school graduates attended college compared to the 10 million white high school graduates that attended college (NCES). This achievement gap exists because minority children aren’t as rich in cultural capital as their white counterparts.

The majority of black and Latino children aren’t as privileged as me. I was an A and B student throughout elementary, middle and high school, and I now attend Hamilton College, an elite college. How did I get here?

Although I’m not very rich in terms of economic resources, growing up in a single parent household with my little brother and a single mother who failed to receive child support from both of our fathers, I’m rich in cultural capital. Cultural capital is the general social tastes, preferences, and knowledge of how to skillfully navigate society. It is learned through one’s education, and socio-cultural background.

Growing up in Boston, I was surrounded by educational opportunities and programs. Massachusetts was ranked number 1 in education in 2014-2015 (Bernardo). I was fortunate enough to go to a collegiate charter high school. My graduating class had only 62 students and two college counselors. The school funded college tours around Boston and even out-of-state. As a junior, I began creating drafts of my personal statement; I kept working at it until my college counselors gave it a 100%.

I was involved in many extracurricular activities, especially sports. I played baseball, basketball, and tennis. I worked at a makerspace and entrepreneurship center, where I launched my art business as a sophomore. I was even a part of my school’s debate team. However, my high school and the support I had were by no means the norm in this country for Black and Latino children. There is a lot of progress to be made in other cities and states around America (The Nation’s Report Card). Many esteemed American cities like Washington D.C. lack good education systems. Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, where so many intellectuals, politicians, and judges live fails to educate the children that live in the same area (Bernardo). D.C. is ranked 50th in the nation. In Washington D.C., only 64.6% of black and Latino students graduated high school compared to the 84.5% of white students that graduated (OSSE); these rates are worse than the national average.

The achievement gap in Massachusetts is much smaller. In 2015, 75.8% of white high school students graduated while 69.6% of black and Latino high school students graduated (Massachusetts Department of ESE). So what has the State of Massachusetts done right in their education system to close the racial attainment gap?

In 1993, Massachusetts decided to focus on improving public education. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 set out to reform local education systems throughout the state (Horan). Resources were allocated to revise curricula, and update facilities and equipment, including new books and working computers. Programs were also created to provide more college prep for students. Since the 1993 reform, a higher percentage of kids have been graduating per year Boston’s 4-year graduation rate has climbed from 59.1% in 2006 to 70.7% in 2015 (Horan). Academic performance in the classroom has surged. Boston should and needs be looked at as a national leader in education reform

If not, the achievement gap will continue to exist. If so, the American state and federal governments are illustrating their apathy for America’s failing education system that claims no child should be left behind. Why have legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 if its basic premise is not being practiced?


2 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Apples: American Children Left Behind”

  1. Hi Jaleel,

    This is a great post. You present some really important sociological information and data in a very accessible and engaging way.

    I think that Aly’s post, “What I Learned in Boarding School Is…”, Rui’s post, “It’s Time to Move beyond Numbers!!”, and your post complement each other very well. I think that the concept of cultural capital is an important one for people to understand, and it’s interesting to compare how each of you approach the implementation/manifestation of cultural capital.

    Yours seems to starts at more or less the root of the achievement gap – how its economic and sociocultural foundation begins at birth, practically. Move ahead a few years, and Aly’s gets at the particulars of how attending certain high schools (including your high school, it sounds like) can put a student in a better position to move ahead with their education/career. Rui’s talks about the challenges that students face when they do matriculate at colleges, and touches upon the important differences in resources that can keep minority students in college or push them away.

    In all of these stages, a significant amount of cultural capital is necessary to move on to the next. There are so many hoops to jump through for for systematically disadvantaged students, and I think that a lot of people do not understand this at all, which is beyond unfortunate.

    I would love to expand on all of that, but I just thought of two books that I think would be of interest to you or anyone else who would be interested in learning more about cultural capital and achievement.

    One is “The Other Wes Moore” by Wes Moore (which is stillll on my reading list, even though I’ve heard a lot about it) and the other is “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel, which I have read. I can’t comment much on “The Other Wes Moore” other than to say that it’s the true story of two Black men named Wes Moore who were raised by single mothers in the same inner city neighborhood. While one of them was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, the other was sentenced to life in prison. As I understand, it’s a very personal, grounded account of what you’re talking about – how some people can suffer at the hands of the system, while others somehow transcend it, and what cultural capital has to do with that.

    In “Acts of Faith,” Eboo Patel gives an account of his upbringing as a young Muslim man in Chicago, and how the social circles he ran in kept him from falling into Islamist extremist groups. Actually, I think this is a lot like the stress process model that we discussed in class. Mr. Patel had healthy outlets for his frustration that allowed him to process the tension he felt between the values of America and those of India, while other young, first generation Muslims can be more or less shuttled towards violence. It’s a really fascinating read, incorporating aspects of sociology with personal and religious experiences.

    Maybe you’ve heard of or read these books already, but if not, maybe the summer would be a time to read them!

  2. Jaleel,

    Really liked this blog post and I think it touched an a hugely important issue. As you touched upon, closing this education gap is no easy task. Not only do students in lower income classes fail to receive a comparable education to their wealthier counterparts, they also fail to receive the cultural capital that is so important to navigating through the academic and professional worlds.

    Your post really made me wonder if there was any way that federal educational acts (like NCLB) could effectively provide low income students with the means to collect cultural capital if they are not receiving access to these resources at home. Given that the sociological world so clearly agrees on the importance of cultural capital, perhaps policymakers should be focusing more on cultural capital as they create future legislative acts.

    Thanks again for sharing your personal experiences. I think personal reflection on dry and abstract theories such as cultural capital makes it far easier to understand and I certainly can say that your post better helped me understand the implications of cultural capital.


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