Keep the ‘American Dream’ Alive

Part Two

A bright future awaits, yet science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs are mottled with unfilled vacancies. This demonstrates or leads to the possibility that parents might be transmitting income inequality to their offspring.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, was recently asked to comment on the “slowing social mobility;” his answer was as unsurprising and accurate as it was impolitic and audacious.
Expressing the Tory faith in “indomitable ambition and private enterprise,” Johnson acknowledged the “freezing of the canals of opportunity” and confessed that “inequality is in the nature of capitalism” because it was a system that favored high IQs coupled with ambition and that those so privileged “were equipped to compete for the spoils of capitalism.”
If only history were replete with economies and civilizations that favored mediocre IQs and low ambition; what would these cultures look like and would we be willing to fly their airlines to get there for cheap heart surgery? Such economies are known for cronyism and nepotism and the result poverty, corruption and stagnation.
Before trusting a math teacher on the subject of math, let’s see what Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had to say about the merits of math; when he “asked the wide-eyed boy what he planned to major in at Brown. Math, he was told. ‘Good, good. That’s what I look for in hiring my clerks — the cream of the crop. I look for the maths and the sciences, real classes.’”
One pair of crampons that has always proven itself useful in scaling the income ladder is mathematics; yet parents inadvertently derail math achievement in their children.
But first a disclaimer: the following examples are distilled from multiple school districts over a period of 30 years; any connection between real people and the following anecdotes is probably just chance; if you feel you deserve a footnote, please contact the writer.
Consider these scurrilous arguments offered by enabling parents to defend, indeed promote, underachievement in something as critical as math.
A student is late to Geometry class 3 out of 5 days a week; the tardy arrivals are reported to the parent; the parent asks, “What class is he late to?” the teacher replies, “Geometry;” the parent responds, “Well then, now you know where the problem is;” getting this green light, the student then arrives tardy four out of five days. 
A student is failing math; the student claims the tests are not fair; the parent naturally agrees because the tests expect the student to remember math content for more than two weeks.
A student is caught indisputably cheating on a test; the parent assures the teacher that students who cheat are not necessarily cheaters; that everyone cheats; the tests encourage cheating; the administration extracts a formal apology from the teacher; the student blithely treads water for the rest of the semester.
A bored student continually text messages in class; the parent is called; the parent asks what can be done; the teacher suggests confiscating the cell phone; the parent insists that there must be a less Draconian solution.
For group quizzes, a parent insists that his son who has done no math homework must be placed in a group with students who actually do homework; why should the son be penalized for lassitude? 
A student, who brings only a cell phone to class and covertly texts, has her phone temporarily confiscated by a parent; the parent later reports that she was forced to restore the phone because her daughter could not breathe and was choking without it.
Succeeding in math undeniably involves strenuous thinking and hard work but with the right signals from parents the arduous and rigorous elements of a high school education can be successfully circumvented; thus a hollow diploma without all the work and thinking is awarded.
“We are only beginning to understand the process by which children who start at the bottom may ultimately develop (or not develop) the requisite skills to have an equal opportunity for economic success,” stated Bhaskar Mazumder in his work “Upward Generational Mobility in the United States. “We do not yet know what combination of factors (e.g., parental resources, preschool quality, early life health, peer and neighborhood influences) will ultimately improve human capital development.”
As a math teacher who has witnessed many debilitating overt, covert and subliminal signals that protective parents erroneously give their children; it’s easy to see what isn’t working.

Jeffrey R. Smith teaches math at Encinal High School.