By Christopher Scott, Director II, Capital Region III AVID/CalSOAP, Sacramento County Office of Education
As the effects of the Great Recession continue to ripple across our nation, there is much chatter in the media regarding the widening gulf between society’s “haves” and “have-nots.” Television talk shows, online publications, and hard-copy print are rife with stories detailing the dismal economic prospects for our youth as everything from robotics to global outsourcing daily diminishes not just their broader career opportunities, but their chances for any employment that will support them beyond mere subsistence. The resulting negative impact on social mobility and the “hollowing out” of the middle class hardly bode well for the future of our democracy.
In the September 2011 issue of The Atlantic, the deputy managing editor and Princeton-educated author, Don Peck, addresses this situation head-on in the cover article “Can The Middle Class Be Saved,” excerpted from his recently released book, Pinched. In the Atlantic piece, Mr. Peck goes to great lengths to point out the trends and factors threatening the attainability of the American Dream. And while there is indeed some dire data, there is also hope, a hope which AVID explicitly fosters and, in literally thousands of individual cases, continues to bring to fruition.
Initially, Mr. Peck’s observations can certainly be disheartening. In one example, he cites professors Bradford Wilcox and Bruce Weinberg's research into the fundamental changes in the structure of the American family, and in particular the demographic shift toward a female majority in an increasing number of career fields and professions, symptomatic of the perceived difficulty that many males have in adapting to the 21st-Century workplace culture of collaboration and shared inquiry. Peck likewise references authors Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing’s The Big Sort, which details inequities precipitated by the clustering of skill-based communities and the increasingly specialized (and constantly evolving) expertise necessary for employment security and advancement. Weighing these and the many other factors involved, Peck observes that without either the ability to adapt to the changing modes and mindset of the global workplace or the possession of high-level, transferable skills, American youth, both male and female, will find it virtually impossible to gain entry to the middle class. Where does Peck see the doorway to such access? Through education.
Although in popular discourse the value of a college degree has recently come into question, Peck adamantly maintains that in spite of the initial costs, postsecondary education – the more the better -- remains the most viable (and valuable) key to social and economic independence. In addition to citing data that pegs the national unemployment rate (March 2011) of those with only a high school diploma at nearly three times that of four-year college graduates (12% vs. 4.5%), Peck maintains “on a relative basis, the return on a four-year degree is near its historic high.” Most succinctly, he states, “Without doubt, it is vastly better to have a college degree than to lack one.” This, of course, has been the AVID mantra for more than three decades. Huge policy issues abound, yes, but the AVID College Readiness System, with its WICOR-based academic skillset, its can-do, collaborative culture of resilience and self-determination, as well as its commitment to 21st-Century success for all students, can contribute considerably toward addressing the challenges laid out in Peck’s article.
So, just how can the middle class be saved? – One AVID student at a time is an excellent place to start.