Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education

Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education

Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education

Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education

Synopsis

We often hear about the growing divide between rich and poor in America. This compelling exposé, backed by up-to-date research, locates the source of this trend where we might least expect to find it--in our schools. Written for a wide audience, Tearing Down the Gates is a powerful indictment of American education that shows how schools, colleges, and universities exacerbate inequality by providing ample opportunities for advantaged students while shutting the gates on the poor--and even the middle class. Peter Sacks tells the stories of young people and families as they struggle to negotiate the educational system. He introduces students like Ashlea, who grew up in a trailer park and who would like to attend college, though she faces constant obstacles that many of her more privileged classmates can't imagine. Woven throughout with voices of Americans both rich and poor, Tearing Down the Gates describes a disturbing situation that has the potential to undermine the American dream, not just for some, but for all of us. At the heart of this book is a question of justice, and Sacks demands that we take a hard look at what equal opportunity really means in the United States today.

Excerpt

Tearing Down the Gates is about injustice. It is about the staggering economic inequalities that open the gates of opportunity for the children of affluent and well-educated families and slam the gates shut for children born without social and economic privilege. While we often hear about the widening economic divide between the rich and the poor in modern America, this book attempts to locate the fountainhead of this growing economic disparity in one of our most cherished democratic institutions: our education system.

Ashlea Jackson is a high school junior who would like to attend college and perhaps study journalism. She’s hard-working, eager, and smart. Ashlea, who is white, grew up in a trailer park. Two of her brothers have already been in trouble with the law; both have served time in juvenile detention. Her mother is homebound because of illness, and her father, who never finished high school, works at whatever manual labor he can find.

My wife, Kathleen, has been Ashlea’s Big Sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for the past several years. We decided that we wanted to set up a modest college scholarship for Ashlea, giving her money for college as long as she kept up a certain grade point average in high school. When we broached the scholarship idea with her dad, who was proud of his daughter’s plans for college, he had to ask us, “What’s a GPA?” As people who had monitored the progress of our GPAs and test scores like stock analysts through various graduate and professional schools, we were dumbstruck by the question.

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