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A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 6 - Equal Opportunity

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, in particular by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

Today's entry examines the article, Overcoming Hardship To Survive & Thrive.

This is probably the article where I was most in agreement with Carson (though still not completely). He makes some good points, and I think the mindset of individuals has to be to take responsibility for themselves and try their hardest to excel. There's not much to disagree with in passages like this*:

There is a long list of factors highly correlated with success regardless of the environment. They include strong supportive families, a sense of personal responsibility, good role models, faith that produces a sense of purpose and values, hard work, confidence, courage, emphasis on education and caring neighbors.

But I think that as a society, we should step back and look at what obstacles might be keeping certain segments of the population from achieving their full potential. It's not enough to tell kids to work hard if there's a good chance their efforts aren't going to be rewarded.

Here's a revealing graph from the Economic Policy Institute's The State of Working America site, where they used eighth grade math scores as a proxy for academic achievement**.

Share of students completing college, by socioeconomic status and eighth-grade test scores

Students who perform well but have a low socioeconomic status only have a 28.8% chance of graduating from college, while students who perform poorly but come from a high socioeconomic status have a 30.3% chance of graduating from college. In other words, poor performing wealthy students have better odds of graduating from college than high performing poor students. The discrepancy's even worse when you see that nearly three quarters of high performing wealthy students will complete college.

So even the low-income students who are doing everything Carson seems to be saying they should do, just don't have the same opportunities as high-income students. If it was all down to initiative, those hard working low income students would be just as well represented in universities as their more well-off counterparts. The fact is, the luck of the draw in being born to parents of a certain income level has huge implications for the opportunities you'll have in life. And with income and wealth inequality both increasing (source - Pew Research - U.S. income inequality, on rise for decades, is now highest since 1928), this disparity is only going to grow, and the problem is only going to be exacerbated by rising tuition costs thanks to cuts to university funding.

Carson mentioned his scholarship program which I realize is an attempt to help with this, and which is certainly commendable, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the magnitude of the problem.

So I agree with Carson that individuals must do everything within their own power to be successful, and their local communities must do all they can to help. But we must also realize that the deck is stacked against them, and that if we want America to truly be a land of opportunity where anybody can be successful through their own efforts, we'll have to institute systematic solutions to try to address those obstacles.

Related Entry:

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: Overcoming Hardship To Survive & Thrive

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Continue to Part 7 - Honesty & Constitutional Literacy

*Of course, I'm still not in total agreement with that excerpt. He just had to slip in that part about faith producing purpose and values. Here's an article highlighting some of the studies showing where the non-religious and secular exhibit the same or better values than the religious, Misinformation and facts about secularism and religion.

**A recent NPR interview with Tom Harkin, Senator Warns Of A Student Loan Bubble, quotes the senator on a more direct statistic than relying on eighth grade math scores. I haven't been able to track down the source of this stat, and given the EPI's graph that I included up above, Harkin's statement seems like it may be exaggerated. However, without knowing how he's defining income or performance, there's no way of knowing for sure. At any rate, here it is for reference.

Right now, if you are a high-income, low performance student, you have an 80 percent chance of going to college. If you are a low-income student, but high-performing with a B or better average, you only have a 20 percent chance of going to college.

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