Is America Still The ‘Land Of Opportunity?’

Is America Still The ‘Land Of Opportunity?’
July 01, 2013

Is the old saying still true? Can you work your way up from the bottom today, to become an innovator and a leader? Host Michel Martin explores the skills you need to compete and succeed in school and beyond.


Shirley Ann Jackson, she’s president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She’s a theoretical physicist. She also happens to be the first African-American woman to lead a top-50 research university.

Joel Klein is a former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. He’s now the CEO of Amplify, the education division of News Corp.

Madeline Levine is a psychologist and author of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.”

Paul Tough is a writer who’s been focusing on education for some time now. His latest book, “How Children Succeed,” is just out in paperback.

KLEIN: right now, increasingly, what you see is less and less mobility at the top colleges. You see fewer and fewer kids who grew up in poverty who are getting into those schools and those programs.

MARTIN: Antonio Villaraigosa said that the civil rights issue of our time is this issue of the achievement gap. It’s the democracy issue of our time. … If you want to be able to compete in the new economy, you have to have intellectual capital.

JACKSON: we get the product of the, primarily, the public school system, and there are issues with what we get,  … those things can range from how deep the knowledge is to what the maturity level of the young people turns out to be.

TOUGH: we’ve been focused very much in our school system and, I think, in many of our families on cognitive skills, on the sort of skills that get measured on standardized tests.
And as Shirley Ann is pointing out, those matter a lot when kids get to college, but they’re not all that matters.

There’s also this other set of skills that economists called non-cognitive skills, things like grit and perseverance, conscientiousness, optimism that matter a lot, especially at the college level.

LEVINE: At Stanford we just did a study, 95 percent of kids are cheating. It’s well-known.

KLEIN: as Paul has pointed out, they don’t have the grit, the determination, the stick-to-itiveness to grow.

JACKSON: it also would help to delineate where peoples’ skills and intelligences really are.
And there are multiple intelligences.

LEVINE: I think we need socioemotional learning in every classroom – Chicago’s doing a good job of integrating it – which means that, not as a separate course, but as part of how everything is taught.

KLEIN: Every place but education has gone through a technological revolution, and education is sitting still*. And I think the opportunities to empower our teachers, change the learning process, engage kids – I’ve seen it with the work we’re doing at Amplify, and I’ve been in schools that are using these products and how excited they are.

You want to get kids working together, give them the kind of quests we put them on.
Figure out in groups who killed Edgar Allen Poe and why.

* April 15, 2013