Self-fulfilling prophecies

I have spent much of my summer working on my advocacy around educational equities, particularly regarding policy innovations to improve post-secondary outcomes for low-income students.

It’s pretty clear that our educational system–from the expectations we set for children to the resources they encounter in the classroom to the incentives presented to their parents to how students fare once they leave school–works differently for disadvantaged students than for advantaged ones.

And the result is that, instead of being an equalizing agent in our society, education tends to reinforce patterns of relative privilege.

It works insidiously, of course, so that these mechanisms are nearly invisible.

We end up, then, with something that looks almost like a ‘natural’ phenomenon:

Low-income students of color just don’t do as well in school.

As if that is, somehow, just to be expected.

And that’s a theme–this idea that our policies can produce inequitable outcomes in a way that makes them look inevitable, instead of distinctly and unjustly orchestrated–that I reflected on during some of my non-professional reading this summer, too.

Like how, around the world today, many nations and cultures believe that girls don’t deserve an education, so they make it difficult or even impossible for girls to go to school…and then their relative lack of education is used as ‘evidence’ of the reality of girls’ inferior academic abilities.

Or, even more tragically, when Nazis did not permit Jews to work and then used their ‘idleness’ as part of the rationale for their subsequent deportation.

Of course, these beliefs and practices aren’t just found in literature.

What about when mothers receiving welfare do not receive enough financial support to provide well for their children, and then we point to their kids’ inadequate nutrition and ill-fitting clothes as ‘proof’ that they are not well cared for?

Or when we enact strict penalties for those who have disabilities and work (in many states, they can still lose their health care and benefits, if they earn too much money) and then lament their lack of ‘work initiative’?

Or when we forbid people from using SNAP benefits to buy diapers at the grocery store and then incarcerate a mom for stealing diapers for her baby (really), and cite that as, somehow ‘proving’ the inherent untrustworthiness of people in poverty?

Or, particularly perniciously, when we hold our elections on Tuesdays and cluck our tongues at the low voter turnout rates among low-income working people–those least in control of their time on any given work day?

Where our policies give credence to our worst instincts, we need policy change.

Where we build barriers and constrain people’s options to a series of bad choices and then cast judgment on their choice of one of those, we need policy change.

Where we force people to live out stereotypes that in no way reflect the reality of their lives absent these unnatural limitations, we need policy change.

Where our direst prophecies are being fulfilled, and then treated as though the march in this direction is unavoidable, even while lamentable…

We need policy change.

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