Not Accept It (Enough is Enough)

I was surprised to hear that in Toronto’s underprivileged neighbourhoods, forty percent of the students drop out of school. Forty percent of students don’t finish high school and are faced with dead-end jobs if they can find them. Forty percent of the school.

It’s gone on for years and years and years, generations.

I couldn’t understand how the ministry of education could know that and just accept it. Why weren’t they saying we just can’t have this. Those are horrible numbers. Why wouldn’t they send in twice, three times, as many teachers. Have classes as small as 12 students, have breakfast and lunch programs, have extra tutoring, take students down to Bay street into the office towers, into lawyers’ offices and show the young people what they could work for. Why wouldn’t the administrators just say this is unacceptable and get on with immediately doing something about it. Oh we need to research it, it’s a social problem….. the research is clear. Reduce the class size and improve the students performance. Private schools know that. Why wouldn’t they do that at least, something right away. There’s no excuse for decades of tolerating a forty percent dropout rate, no hesitation to spend good money on getting this right.

Mike Harris, premier of Ontario, cut after-school programs in underprivileged schools. These were highly successful programs with dedicated leaders developed carefully over time. Didn’t want to spend money on them. Ten years later Toronto has a youth gang problem. What did we think would happen? I think Mike Harris should be asked what he was thinking, how he could have made that choice.

That’s the problem. We just accept things. That’s the way things are. Mike Harris who favours golf courses funding over after-school funding, well, that’s the way it is. He’s in charge. It’s the system.

Well, actually, he doesn’t get it. And he’s part of the system, of the systemic problem which is finally being identified now more publicly with Black Lives Matter voices.

So what is the system. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the work of Dr. Piff at the University of California, Berkley showing inequality and the effect of social class on social behaviour. The following article describes the work. The work is published in academic journals.

I’ve mentioned before the fascinating experiment also described in the article of two people playing monopoly and explained by Dr. Piff in his Tedx tal., By random selection one player is given a lot more advantage than the other. The outcome is inevitable. The one starting with more advantage is the winner. What fascinates me is that in the post game debriefing the advantaged players in the many games in the experiment are asked what they attribute their success to. Not one of them mentions the fact they started out with a lot more than their opponent. They see success more as their good playing, how good they were.

A conclusion drawn by the experimenters suggests that deep in our assumptions as individuals but also as a society, systemically, is that one who does better in life is a better person.

And I guess the better person knows best. Mike Harris did much better than the many high school dropouts. He must be a better person. And I guess he knows better. He knows better what the dropouts need. No after school program, for example.

While the Ministry of Education is staffed no doubt by fine, well-intentioned people they are paralyzed by their own success, the contingent self-absorption to doing well by oneself. With their large salaries and fine education, they unconsciously act in a way suggesting all is OK for now, for decades, because, well, we are better than the kid dropping out of school, who didn’t make it and isn’t likely to make it, you see, because the kids not as good.

Of course it seems along with the policies that cut into the social fabric of the disadvantaged making them more disadvantaged is the symbiotic argument that society needs more police authority, more police protection, more incarcerations, enforcement of the law. Of course if the better people are living in the expensive houses, driving fine cars, going to private schools, again, the better people in their own minds, then the other people, the ones without, are bad people and need to be controlled.

Another famous experiment was done with rats and cocaine. Rats were introduced to cocaine and eventually the rats though hungry would choose cocaine over food with an obvious eventuality of self-inflicted death. A few years later a researcher reexamined the experiment noting the rats in the experiment were housed in a bleak, unnatural environment. The experiment was repeated but this time the rats were placed in a natural environment for them, a healthy environment. This time the rats chose food over cocaine.

A study was done showing that an impoverished L.A. neighbourhood could be turned around with an investment over years of a billion dollars. The end result of the investment in the community would be a great return on the investment in a better economy, productive workforce, people living fulfilled happy lives. People living in that revitalized community would not be turning to drugs or crime as the only way to defend against the social anxiety of a depressed, impoverished, violent neighbourhood.

After 70 years and decades of appeals from indigenous people, the Edmonton Canadian football team is finally dropping the racial slur ‘Eskimo’ from their team name. There is some change, with Covid slowing down the madness, some change against injustice breaking through, the voices below breaking through to the privileged directors of society, some recognition of systemic forces at play, of how wealth and privilege affects psycho-social behaviour, allows people of privilege to accept the impoverishment of fellow citizens, just because, doing better in life makes us feel we are better people.

Got it?

I’m working on it.