Saturday, June 30, 2012

America's Wealth Disparity

Today, in both of my Constitutional Law classes, we spent the majority of our time discussing the First Amendment, why we need it, why we cannot let it get out of hand, and some of the cases involving its use. I found all of this very interesting, but I am not going to go into huge detail with this because I could be here all night, and because I'd like to get to some of things I don't talk about every day, which I feel are more important at the moment.
The man came up and asked us if the fish was ok with us. Looked good to me.

I've acquired a taste for octopus.

Our striped bass (this is half of the fish, Andrea received the other half.)
If you fast-forward past our classes, past the 95 degrees, and to 8:30 PM, we were just sitting down for dinner with four current Columbia students: Mario, Theo, Andrea and Matt, a former ILCer and El Cerrito High School graduate. I sat in the very middle of the table, so I was actually able to talk to all four of them. I can't put summaries of each of my conversations with them, but we talked extensively about core curriculum (which, while demanding, was actually very well-loved by everyone), living in the city (many more opportunities to be involved in the surrounding community), diversity (very diverse, and if it is what you're looking for, very well-integrated), and while it was not directly related to Colombia, I talked for quite a bit with Mario about our society's income inequality. We all talked for hours, sometimes about Colombia, sometimes about some of the problems facing society, and sometimes simply about life and stories from Colombia. On the note of income inequality, though, I felt like going on a tangent in this blog and kind of talking about the problem of wealth disparity. Please excuse the lack of transitional sentences, as I've written this blog totally out of order. My goal though is simply to get my thoughts across.
For anyone who did not read my blog yesterday, I was discussing a bit of a money issue I was having with the Phillies-Mets game I was trying to go to. To make a long story short, the Resident Assistant is taking kids to the game for a price of $80, which, when compared to $10 student tickets for the same game, is very expensive. My problem, though, is that I am in an environment where there are very few people as money-conscious as I am, as the vast majority of kids at this High School program come from more affluent backgrounds. As a result, cheap $10 tickets do not hold nearly as many advantages to most people as they do to me, so convincing the RA to go for cheaper tickets would be difficult. Anyway, today, I did ask the RA, and rather than tell me that some kids had expressed the same concerns as me, or even that he could not change the price, he told me that the majority of kids were actually pushing for a HIGHER price. It is strange being one of the few kids at the program overly concerned about money, although it is kind of my nature to be the one running against the crowd, so I don't mind. Going back to the topic of the game, though, let me tell you, I now appreciate more than ever those $2 A's tickets back home!
On a side note to this issue, I'd like to express my concerns over a major problem facing society. While this problem is relatively well-known (depending on what circles you run in; I'm sure Mitt Romney is completely unaware), I am supposed to blog about what I think of this experience, so I'll just say it anyway. The problem I'd like to talk about here just because I can is the United States' ridiculous wealth disparity. I'll start by saying that I've had long conversations with over 100 kids at this program, and not a single one of these kids treats money the way I do. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, these kids have done absolutely nothing wrong; they all seem to be perfectly good kids who more than deserve the chance they are getting to study for a few weeks at one of the world's top universities. I have no problem at all with upper class students being here. My cause for alarm is the kids who are not here. I have talked to hundreds of kids the past few days, and I have yet to meet a single student who has shown any remote signs of representing the lower class, in fact, I have barely met anyone representing the middle class. I do not openly ask kids what their families' incomes are, but there are certain things that give you an idea: things like spending $100 on a baseball game where there are $10 tickets available, or constantly paying to eat out when you have free food in the cafeteria, or introducing me as "the thriftiest kid you've ever met." The reason for the near non-existence of lower and middle-class students at this program is, I believe, America's ridiculous wealth disparity.
Without going into too much detail (this is a daily blog, not an essay, and I'd love to get sleep), money buys opportunity. Students with money can attend private school or can move to wealthier areas and attend a wealthy public school. Let me make perfectly clear that I am not upset with those who are wealthier; they have done nothing wrong. That being said, though, lower class students do not have this opportunity. Many lower class students will live in lower-income neighborhoods, and may attend "dropout factories," where fewer than 60% of the freshman class will still be in school by senior year. Success in these dropout factories is unlikely. College? Hopefully. A 3-week Summer program? Almost no chance. And as the upper classes can buy more and more opportunities unavailable to the lower classes, the lower classes get left behind. I just tried to write a summary of how the wealth disparity affects educational opportunities in about 30 minutes, so it is far from my best writing, but I hope you understand the idea I am trying to get at.
And just because taking a jab at Mitt Romney ties in directly to what I've written about money buying opportunity, Mitt Romney said earlier this year that he would bet $10,000 for something as a joke during a GOP primary debate. While he was joking of course, those $10,000 that he offered as betting money could pay for a lower-class student to attend this program, But instead, he can use his money on one of his 5 houses (worth a combined $30 million), as the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.
Ok, that doesn't directly relate to my point earlier, but if he sells one of those houses, he can use those millions on the education of his sons, while the lower-income families cannot. And THAT is buying opportunity.

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