The American Dream, Awoken Abruptly

Jose Vilson Jose 2 Comments

Pardon the disruption of the heady talk, but I’d rather preface my optimism for our children’s future for a realism I’ve understood since first born. We ought to look more clearly at what students in disadvantaged areas believe about our silly nationalistic fascinations. There’s a set of people in an older generation that believes in instilling names like “American Dream” and “work ethic” in the minds of youth whose country rarely works in their favor (relatively speaking). Imagine me asking one of my students being asked about the American Dream. They’d probably respond with some packaged quotes like doing well in school and staying out of trouble. Rarely will their passions and quandaries about the world stretch farther than the square plots we prepare their minds for.

By the time they reach me, many become adept at straddling the lines of what will get them past the 8th grade, when they will either mature into some sense of academic awareness or slowly digress into complacency. But don’t mistake any of these two divergent paths for believing in a pseudo-meritocracy. If anything, there’s a subconscious understanding that every person has to find a way to hustle. Poor children already see via books, magazines, and TV the inequalities they’re up against. Thus, they don’t always feel like pledging allegiance, respecting troops, or remembering tragedies that preceded their memory span because they know how America regards them. They’re not interested in stock markets and elevator speeches about the economy because they know where they stand on that pay scale.

They’re not too interested in spending 12 years of their lives getting told they don’t know anything when outside of the brick and mortar is lots more fun and lots less pressurized.

I’m not advocating for people to completely disown what this country stands for, or at least the visage of what we believe it might stand for. Many consider themselves lucky compared to the conditions they witnessed before. I’m simply advocating for understanding, and why, for anyone who’s keenly observing, the nationalism instilled in us gets broken rather quickly these days much the way homes, wallets, and hearts do. And it hurts because in my position, I don’t intuitively tell my students that much of what they know is complete bullshit and they ought to revisit it, at least directly. I do believe hard work speaks volumes, and there are plenty of us (including myself) who went through the education process and have done fairly well for ourselves.

I just can’t sit back anymore and ask my fellow teacher, “Um … poverty matters, doesn’t it?”

Mr. Vilson, who reflects like no other …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 2

  1. Matt Mezger, Sr.

    “Thus the capitalism of to-day, which has come to dominate economic life, educates and selects the economic subjects which it needs through a process of economic survival of the fittest.” — Max Weber

  2. Ginger Lewman

    What a powerfully written truth. It’s not sugar-coated. It’s reality. And it speaks to the hearts of those of us who came from that poverty and never believed. And now, as a teacher, I find it hard to ask kids to believe.

    I find it much easier to ask them the tough questions; to become conscious of what they know, but don’t know they know. They don’t know why they feel separate. They just do. I ask them questions that allow them to see they already know a truth deeper than any other they’ve read or were tested on.

    And I know I’m one of them as well.

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