I’m not going to spend much time on this post because it makes me irate. But Forbes published an article by Gene Marks titled “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.” I’m always wary of anything written that purports to have the author put himself in another person’s shoes. Because, quite frankly, it isn’t possible. The best thing you can ever do is assess a situation and provide advice based on the challenges. Mr. Marks did NEITHER before he wrote his piece. How do I know? Cause everything he said has been debunked by others. It’s no surprise that Mr. Marks is a business and technology writer and perhaps he should stick to those subjects.
Let’s quickly eviscerate his nonsense.
The biggest problem here is that Mr. Marks puts actions in the hands of a child that are, for all intents and purposes, out of the child’s control.
If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. And the very best students, even at the worst schools, have more opportunities. Getting good grades is the key to having more options. With good grades you can choose different, better paths. If you do poorly in school, particularly in a lousy school, you’re severely limiting the limited opportunities you have.
In one fell swoop Mr. Marks ignores ever single thing in a child’s life that impacts their reading ability and grades: the child’s health, the health of the parents, the school, the teachers, the responsibilities the child has at home, among others.
This is odd because Mr. Marks WANTS poor kids to rely on others to get ahead:
If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online. I would study on my own. I would make sure my writing and communication skills stay polished.
Because a poor black kid who gets good grades, has a part time job and becomes proficient with a technical skill will go to college. There is financial aid available. There are programs available. And no matter what he or she majors in that person will have opportunities. They will find jobs in a country of business owners like me who are starved for smart, skilled people. They will succeed.
So…a poor black kid needs BOTH secondary schools AND colleges to provide guidance and financial assistance. Wouldn’t it then follow that he needs them to let him know that this guidance and financial assistance exists?
He goes on to write:
And I would use the technology available to me as a student. I know a few school teachers and they tell me that many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays. That because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes a necessary thing to keep their kids safe at home then on the streets. And libraries and schools have computers available too. Computers can be purchased cheaply at outlets like TigerDirect and Dell’s Outlet. Professional organizations like accountants and architects often offer used computers from their members, sometimes at no cost at all.
If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study. I’d become expert at Google Scholar. I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes andCliffsNotes to help me understand books. I’d watch relevant teachings onAcademic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy. (I say relevant because some of these lectures may not be related to my work or too advanced for my age. But there are plenty of videos on these sites that are suitable to my studies and would help me stand out.) I would also, when possible, get my books for free at Project Gutenberg and learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbookand Wikipedia to help me with my studies.
If you read my blog, you know that I have worked in politics and government for a long time. I am almost 30. I earn six figures each year and am constantly on the computer. My question: What are these sites? I have never heard of most of these sites? In terms of Wikipedia, is that now an official source in school? And what does the CIA world factbook help you do in secondary school? Some of the other sites he goes on to list like Evernote are sites I just recently discovered. I love Evernote. How I would have used it as a kid is beyond my imagination. Skype as well (yes poor black kids should skype their way into college, apparently).
As far as internet is concerned, Marks is hoping that he, as a poor black child, will be one of the ones that CAN afford a computer and internet (however cheap). Also, what’s cheap to an impoverished person? He should have listed an acceptable price that he’d be willing (able?) to pay as a poor black kid. To speak from experience, growing up in a rural area, internet service isn’t cheap nor is it accessible to many–it’s also slow and takes triple the amount of time to do work than a faster connection.
Mr. Marks suggests that poor kids go to the library. Oh you mean the ones that are closing at a fast clip? So that they can wait in line for a computer behind all the adults (like their parents) who are using them to apply for jobs?
My goodness Mr. Marks, a busy man such as yourself should know there are only so many hours in a day.
Now, onto his worst point:
Or even a private school. Most private schools I know are filled to the brim with the 1%. That’s because these schools are exclusive and expensive, costing anywhere between $20 and $50k per year. But there’s a secret about them. Most have scholarship programs. Most have boards of trustees that want to give opportunities to kids that can’t afford the tuition. Many would provide funding for not only tuition but also for transportation or even boarding. Trust me, they want to show diversity. They want to show smiling, smart kids of many different colors and races on their fundraising brochures. If I was a poor black kid I’d be using technology to research these schools on the internet too and making them know that I exist and that I get good grades want to go to their school.
Okay…I don’t even know where to begin. Are there enough scholarships at all private schools for all poor people to go if they applied? If not, why bring up an option that isn’t readily available to all kids? Further, who would even know this? Many kids who take advantage of scholarships and voucher programs don’t find out about them on the internet–they find out from adults like Mr. Marks who happen to work as guidance counselors or social workers etc.
The bottom line here is that Mr. Marks puts the future of a child completely and totally in the child’s hands expecting poor black kids to know things that most children, of any income level, simply would not know. If children are capable of finding out everything they need to know on their own and addressing it all themselves then why do we call them children? Let’s just get rid of those pesky child labor laws and put these 10 year olds to work. Maybe we can start by having them paint the schools just like Newt Gingrich suggests.
The best thing the article does is show that in order to overcome disadvantages poor people really need to be up an additional 8 hours daily at the very least. No wonder my mama used to always say “there just ain’t enough hours in a day.”
Mr. Marks has one thing right: there ARE services and resources that can help poor people make up for SOME of the disadvantages of being poor. However, those services and resources are disappearing quickly, hard to come by, limited in scope, and barely promoted to those who need them. If I were a well-to-do middle age white man who thought like Mr. Marks, I’d go pick black kids up and take them to the library, visit poor schools and help poor black kids’ parents fill out those abundantly available private school scholarships. Maybe I’d use my cushy Forbes column to advocate for better schools, nationwide broadband access, and more computers in libraries that do exist. Perhaps I’d even let a few black kids come over and use my computer.
But I know for sure that if I were Mr. Marks I would have used technology to find out that most of what he said has already been addressed by people who study sociology. How can someone so obviously connected be so utterly DISconnected?