06 February 2005

Entire Cities are Getting Left Behind

I've been reading A Hope in the Unseen, as recommended by Melissa. I'm not quite finished with it, and I'll do a review of the book later, but I wanted to write about some of the issues brought up in this book. It is about Cedric Jennings, an urban black teenager who is able to go to an Ivy League University.

There were several things that hit close to home for me with this book. First Cedric is my age. We were doing the same things at the same time- but in totally different settings. Cedric was recruited by the university I went to. It has been interesting to compare our experiences.

The second thing was that I've lived in Trenton, New Jersey. Cedric was raised in Washington DC, but so many of the things he experienced are the same. The drugs, the awful schools, the absolute lack of opportunity for these kids are all in Trenton. There was nothing for most of those kids. There were basically two choices- work in some menial, low-paying job for the rest of your life, or start dealing drugs and make some decent money. No wonder drugs were such a problem. My husband was assigned to home teach more than one person in jail. It is not easy to visit teach someone who's on drugs.

To me, the root problem goes down to education. If you're poor, you're almost certainly going to end up in a bad school. There is no way to get out of that school- the only two alternatives are private schools or homeschooling, and the parents can't afford either. It's a cycle of low wages and low education and no opportunities.

Why don't we have vouchers? Many of the parents pushing for vouchers are not people who want their kids to go to religious schools. What they want is for their kids to go to a decent school- one where they can learn the things they need to.

I don't think vouchers are the only way to help. We have got to change the system- the current one is clearly not working for many kids. When Cedric got to Brown, he didn't know who Freud was. He didn't know what Ellis Island is. He didn't know anything about Winston Churchill. He hadn't even heard of them.

This book was published 7 years ago, while we were living in Trenton. I doubt there have been any big changes there. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the kids we knew in Trenton are just repeating what has been going on there for years- nothing.


  1. I've read this, too. One other thing that struck me was the story of how they paid about 2000$ for their TV set, not because it was a fancy TV, but because they did one of those rent-to-own things.

    I hated reading this book in a way because I hate that it is true that our society is so unfair.

  2. That sounds like a good book. I have to agree though, it does seem like a lot of the poorer people spend huge amounts of money on things that don't matter, because they have income from welfare.

    Education vouchers may help some, but until people have a desire to better their situation and get off welfare and other gov. assistance, I think we will continue to have problems.

  3. What was interesting about this book was that Cedric's mother was not on welfare. She was on welfare before he started school so she could be home with him, but she supported him after that.

    I do think there are problems with welfare- it is easier to have someone else pay the bills. Welfare certainly contributes to the problem, and needs some changes. But it really seems to me that a better education system would solve more problems, even though it would take a while to implement and to see results.

  4. Aimee Roo--

    Your comments about welfare surprise me. I'm wondering what sources you have for your thoughts about welfare. They don't reflect the reality that I have read about, but rather strike me as the conservative boilerplate of the 80s.

    Amira, sorry if I am starting a fight on your blog, but I was really disturbed by Aimee Roo's comment.

  5. Not a problem. I'd love to hear the answer too.

  6. I guess I am in the dark about what part was surpising. I do think that there are many cases where people really do need help, and I would be remiss to say that there was nothing good behind the welfare system. I can think of many cases where people should use the system.
    However, in cases where people could do something to better their situations to be able to get off of welfare, I think that they should do so. As much as I believe in helping people, I also believe that we need to do as much as we can to help ourselves.

    I have seen people abuse it first hand. Families on welfare, with kids to feed, bills to pay, but going out and spending the money on other things. We used to live in a ward where many people in our same situation went on welfare, even though they were able to work. My dear friend also lives in an area where many people, who are able to work, are on welfare because they want nice cars, tvs, and such. Her family is the odd one out since they actually aren't on welfare, even though they could be justified in going on it. The families around them, a lot of them don't have kids, are young, and sadly, LDS, and one family even told us that they do it because they don't want to have to wait for the things they want, and they felt it was justified because they pay taxes.

    Welfare in and of itself is not bad, but when people abuse the system, it starts all kinds of ripple effects. Why even bother going to school to educate yourself for a job if you can just go on welfare and not have to work?

    As far as the educational standpoint, this comes from hearing my father, who worked in a very poor school district, talk about the problems they faced. He was the pyschologist, so he saw up close and personal the effects of many negative situations on the kids and on the families. Unfortunatly, the district didn't recieve vouchers even though they were badly needed. He also felt that until people wanted something better for themselves, things would not improve. Many of the families that he worked with intentionally had more children so they could have more money from welfare, and this was the sole reason for adding to the family. Those kids had so many problems because they weren't loved and wanted, they were just a means to get more material wealth. Many were dealing drugs to make money, and thought it was fine, and even employed their kids to make money dealing and in prostituion. That is something vouchers wouldn't have helped, and only a deep desire for change could have helped.

    We need education to improve ourselves, but it has to start in the home and within the attitudes of the people. I don't feel that vouchers are a bad thing, I just don't see it resolving the issues that really face the kids in those areas. Yes, it will improve the schools, and is therfore, important.

    Anyway, I hope that cleared things up a bit. I don't know what you meant by the boilerplate of the 80's, so if I missed something, let me know.