[T]here are many over-weight, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking senior citizens. But no one seriously uses these exceptions to the rule to suggest that it is perfectly all right to eat, drink, and smoke as much as one wants. Public policies about eating, drinking, and smoking are made on the basis of the general case, not the exceptions to those cases. This is not so in education.
For reasons that are hard to fathom, too many people believe that in education the exceptions are the rule. Presidents and politicians of both parties are quick to point out the wonderful but occasional story of a child’s rise from poverty to success and riches. They also often proudly recite the heroic, remarkable, but occasional impact of a teacher or a school on a child. These stories of triumph by individuals who were born poor, or success by educators who changed the lives of their students are widely believed narratives about our land and people, celebrated in the press, on television and in the movies. But in fact, these are simply myths that help us feel good to be American. These stories of success reflect real events, and thus they are certainly worth studying and celebrating so we might learn more about how they occur. But the general case is that poor people stay poor and that teachers and schools serving impoverished youth do not often succeed in changing the life chances for their students. America’s dirty little secret is that a large majority of poor kids attending schools that serve the poor are not going to have successful lives. Reality is not nearly as comforting as myths. Reality does not make us feel good. But the facts are clear. Most children born into the lower social classes will not make it out of that class, even when exposed to heroic educators.