Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 14, 2016

Identity politics

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

It’s not directly Alameda related, but could be in context with the need to pass a renewal parcel tax for the School District.  It’s also a timely piece given the discussion, particularly around the two Democratic presidential candidates, regarding free college vs. a new college compact.

From the Atlantic:

In 2010, the authors interviewed 150 black young men and women who were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s to parents who lived in public housing. They spent hours with the youth, talking to them in cars, in McDonald’s, in front stoops. In 2012, they followed up with 20 who were representative of the group.

What they found was both hopeful and depressing. The hopeful part: The kids were doing much better than their parents had done. While just 25 percent of parents had a high school diploma and 6 percent had a GED, nearly 70 percent of their kids had a high school diploma. And kids who found what researchers call an “identity project,” essentially a passion or hobby that helped motivate them, went even further, onto college or decent jobs.

About half of the youth researchers studied found this “life raft,” which helped inspire them despite tough conditions. Out of the 116 youth studied who are not still in high school, 90 percent of those with an identity project graduated, while only 58 percent of those without one did so. And 82 percent of those with an identity project were in school or working, compared to 53 percent of those without an identity project

Now, the depressing part: Many of the kids who, like Bob, had seemed destined for a four-year college and a well-paid job a few years ago had veered off track. They weren’t using drugs or on the streets, and they were employed, but they were often making minimum wage in jobs with little room for advancement. Some kids went to for-profit universities and didn’t get degrees. Others wanted to get out of their parents’ house so badly that they took whatever job they could, before they had the chance to get the education or training to excel further.

Even kids with identity projects can struggle. It’s what researchers call the “crabs in the bucket” phenomenon, where the difficulties of environment can drag down promising students. Students whose parents are absent, who are living in overcrowded homes, who are surrounded by crime and blight, often struggled in adolescence despite early promise and despite being passionate about their hobbies.

While it seems so revolutionary to talk about offering free college for everyone, what that sort of discussion doesn’t address are these kids that don’t make it to college for some reason or the other.  This is more of a problem with systemic poverty with the added flavor of racial injustice.

Until we are able to address the issues of institutional racism promises of the debt free college experience for a group of people already doing better than a substantial percentage of Americans smacks of privilege.

The authors of the book referenced in the Atlantic report do have concrete policy suggestions, and the majority of the solutions require direct investment in the community and at the K-12 level:

The authors come away with some very concrete policy proposals for how to help students through adolescence and beyond. They suggest creating more robust mobility programs to ensure that kids don’t grow up in the same concentrated poverty that their parents did and more opportunities for “passion projects” in schools and after-schools by investing more in libraries, clubs, and other institutions, and by expanding funding for the arts. Unfortunately, many cities are doing the opposite, disinvesting in libraries and requiring kids to pay to participate in extracurricular activities. Philadelphia, for instance, is cutting music, visual arts, and theater programs from its public schools.

The book also argues for disseminating much more information to low-income students about what happens when they graduate high school, and how the short-term choices they make about where to go to school, what kind of degree to pursue, what kind of job to take, could have very long-term consequences. This means better college and career counseling in high school, more information about how students can parlay community college experience into time at a four-year college, and more information about how different courses of study lead to different jobs.

Which is why it’s so important to continue to invest in local schools and make sure that even the “unaffordable” extras and made available.  That would go a long way to investing in our future.



  1. The cost of college today is truly shocking…at UC Berkeley the students from rich families don’t care, the poor are subsidized, but the middle class pay through the nose. This pattern is repeated across the country. This is a huge factor in contributing to the attack on the middle class. The ripoff of poor students is that high schools (like in AUSD) are graduating too many students who although college eligible, don’t have college skills as shown by the poor results on junior college and CSU college placement tests in English and Math. This results in these student taking remedial courses in college for which they get no credit, thus increasing their time in college, and their expenses. A hopeful idea is what they have done in Oregon- make junior colleges free and allow students to build up their skills there. Looming over any discussion of college is whether is whether enough jobs are available for college graduates which might result in some hope of upward mobility as our economy flatlines.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — April 14, 2016 @ 6:59 am

    • Captain, why make junior colleges free so students can build up their skills? Why not require high schools to do the job of preparing the students for college? If you give the local school districts a pass for preparing the students, when a young person gets into junior college they may not complete. They may have to drop out because they are on their own and having to work, or they may be starting a family and need to drop out to work full time or two or three part time jobs. And, by having the kids use junior college to improve their skills, we the tax payers are paying twice for that education. I hate to pay double what something is worth, do t you?

      Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — April 14, 2016 @ 9:51 am

  2. I don’t remember, but I believe junior college was free for California residences in California until prop 13. Prop 13 changed education in California. Public Universities were actually reasonable.

    Comment by joelsf — April 14, 2016 @ 7:21 am

  3. 2: JoelSF is correct. One might add that CA’s Proposition 13, the Costa-Hawkins Act, and our local 1976 Measure A were all manifestations of–or deliberate attempts to reinforce–the “systemic poverty with the added flavor of racial injustice” that Lauren described in this post.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — April 14, 2016 @ 7:45 am

    • What about Prop 209 and the original Bakke Decision?

      Comment by frank — April 14, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

    • Laney College had tuition and unit fees in 1972. They were about 50% of Cal State Tuition and Unit Fees and about 25% of University of CA Fees and Tuition for in state students. Took Classes there during summer vacations while coming home to work .

      Comment by Rewriting History — April 14, 2016 @ 9:48 pm

  4. It’s time that the City of Alameda invested something in the arts other than sculptures in public spaces. Other cities like Hayward and Walnut Creek have theater and rehearsal space built into their budgets and so provide year round arts opportunities for students. A number of great arts organizations have folded due prim!arily to the cost of rent. I was on the board of Alameda Civic Light Opera which, in addition to providing performance experience, voice and dance training for free to any student who was cast in one of our shows, we (with the assistance of the Lippert Foundation) provided summer jobs and training to scores of high school students in techinical theater, many of whom make their living in the theater today).

    ACLO folded after 13 years due in large part to the cost of using AUSD’s Kofman Auditorium. In addition to rent, we had to pay for additional staff to do not much more than lock and unlock the doors. Over $40,000 a year was required just to have someone “babysit” while we were in the building, that’s for a program that only ran in the summer! I know of a number of other arts organizations that have fizzled out due to the cost of renting space. Although Kofman Auditorium is at Alameda High, even Alameda High theater students are not able to use the theater as much as the theater department would like because of the cost of additional staff. Because of these kinds of issues, the school district is perhaps not the best place for arts education. A non-profit can employ volunteers to do many things that AUSD must insist are done by paid employees. A better approach to partnering among non-profits, the City, and AUSD to provide arts opportunities would accomplish much more than simply increasing the AUSD budget. The biggest need is for subsidized studio, rehearsal, and performance space.

    A tremendous amount of time, money, and effort has been put into preserving Kofman Auditorium. It’s absurd that it sits empty most of the time because AUSD’s rules and regulations stand in the way. Under the right management, it could be a money maker instead of a drain. In the old days, professional theater companies and music acts played the Kofman. Why not again? Revenue could help fund arts programs for kids. Everybody wins.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — April 14, 2016 @ 7:55 am

  5. I have begun to wonder if it would be cheaper and definitely more efficient to just give people money. Direct cash payments*. Taking care of food and shelter concerns seems like it would put disadvantaged kids in a position where they don’t need super hero teachers/schools/coaches/mentors/programs to help lift them out of abject poverty. Just take care of the poverty directly and the payoffs in terms of savings elsewhere (not to mention the decrease in despair) could be immense.

    *I was like 15 during the Clinton welfare reform era, and like attitudes toward the criminal justice system, I wonder if the public would take a different tack now.

    Comment by BMac — April 14, 2016 @ 9:36 am

    • The issue with arguments that leveling the economic playing field will solve disadvantaged black and brown kids doesn’t take into account systemic issues such as those in this article.

      Comment by Lauren Do — April 14, 2016 @ 10:34 am

      • I didn’t mean to ignore that aspect. Things like a Universal Basic Income or other cash payments can be targeted and augmented w/ a reparations like intent. And they are not a substitute but rather a compliment to other social policy. If you start to solve the basic economic issue it empowers people to start seeing and advocating for themselves in a way that doesn’t happen w/out it, was my thinking. If Mom doesn’t have to work a second job at night it is easier to make sure the kids are on top of their schoolwork and join the PTA, etc.

        Comment by BMac — April 14, 2016 @ 5:26 pm

      • In sum, the evidence presented at trial highlighted likely drawbacks to the current
        tenure, dismissal, and layoff statutes, but it did not demonstrate a facial constitutional
        violation. The evidence also revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some
        local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in
        California’s public schools. The evidence did not show that the challenged statutes
        inevitably cause this impact. Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions
        and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves. This was a heavy burden and one
        plaintiffs did not carry. The trial court’s judgment declaring the statutes unconstitutional,
        therefore, cannot be affirmed. Vergara v. State of California 4/14/16 CA2/2

        Comment by MP — April 15, 2016 @ 5:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Create a free website or blog at