It seems to me….
“Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.” ~ Denis Waitley.
The “Horatio Alger myth” is based on novels by Horatio Alger, Jr., that were very popular following the U.S. Civil War, which told the classic American success story of how impoverished boys could rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middleclass security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. The Horacio Alger myth has long persisted in the U.S. and though never very factual, has become even less so in recent years.
Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase “All men are created equal” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a quote widely considered to be an immortal declaration. George Orwell countered with the sarcastic quote “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. It is obvious that people are in fact not created equal; there are basic genetic differences: some are smarter, better looking, or more athletic. Some grow up in better communities, have better educated and wealthier parents, attend better schools….
Everyone is told – and we prefer to believe – that hard work and perseverance determines how our lives turn out but while important, not entirely factual. Where and when we are born, having nurturing parents (who are financially well-off), growing up in a safe neighborhood, having good teachers able to inspire us, attending a good college and selecting an appropriate field of study, and having inspiring mentors are the primary determinants of “success”. While intelligence is important, there are many extremely intelligent, creative, hardworking people who never excel. The Horacio Alger story might not be a total myth but it should be obvious that being open to new experiences, being conscientious, and actually seeking success is at least equally important.
It is only natural that parents try to provide their children with the best preparation possible for their future life. But the primary determinant of a child’s future success remains the postal zip code in which they are born. The zip code is fairly indicative of parental wealth and education, the quality of local schools, and their peer group and acquaintance career choices.
The parent’s educational achievement level is a fairly good indication of their vocabular, literary, and entertainment preferences, profession and aspirations, and social contacts. A higher education exposes their child to a broader vocabulary and the ability to better understand and reason. They are more inclined to read to young children and encourage them to read, less inclined to watch television, and to read non-fiction.
Additionally, acquaintances and peer groups provide familiarity with different professional options.
The emotional, social, and physical growth of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become. Low birth weight and poor maternal nutrition, more common among low-income families, have been shown to result in a higher risk of problems later in life.
Family income has also been shown to be directly related to brain structure differences (primarily cortical volume or thickness) in adolescents though it has not been conclusively determined if this has resulted from differences in nutrition, neighborhood, school quality, parenting style, or family stress. Children from lower-income (poverty) families tend to perform more poorly on a variety of tests than peers from families with higher income. They are less likely to graduate from high school or college and more likely to be occupationally under-employed. Educational and occupational disadvantages related to lower economic environment can also result in significant differences in the brain’s size, shape, and functioning.
Researchers have found that the chronic stress of living in chaotic, impoverished environments affects brain centers involved in executive functioning, which controls things like attention, working memory, planning, reasoning, and inhibition. Children who grow up in stressful environments tend to have more emotional and behavioral problems, making the transition to school problematic. Yet, more than 50 percent of school-aged kids now come from low-income families without the optimal cognitive or emotional development to succeed as students.
Early childhood care and education/intervention programs have been shown to significantly enhance children’s prospects for academic success by reducing the probability of referral to special education, grade retention, and leaving school prior to high school graduation, especially for children at risk for academic underachievement. Such programs provide a strong foundation for literacy development as poor academic skills are credibly associated with dropping out of school and delinquency. Tragically, Pre-K is not available for one-third of U.S. children, most of for whom it would be most beneficial. Such risk factors are elevated by poverty, developmental and learning disabilities, belonging to an ethnic minority, and speaking English as a second language among other considerations.
Differences in the educational opportunities and school performance of students from low-income families as compared to non-low-income students have long been an issue of concern for educators and policymakers. Despite efforts, gaps in academic outcomes, graduation, and post-secondary enrollment persist. Specifically, students from low-income families continue to score far below non-low-income students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and graduate high school at lower rates than non-low-income students. These differences continue into adulthood, where children from low-income families earn lower wages, are more likely to be incarcerated, and have a lower life expectancy than otherwise similar non-low-income peers.
Research has shown that all young children need certain types of supports from parents to develop in positive directions starting with consistent, safe, and loving attention. When children come from homes where there is abuse, domestic violence, an incarcerated parent, or a parent with drug or mental health problems, they do not receive that type of attention and suffer the consequences including higher risks of later-life depression, adolescent pregnancy, alcoholism, drug use, and poor academic performance.
Parents and teachers, as well as home and school environments, can influence the development of early oral language skills, including vocabulary, use of complex sentences, and metalinguistic awareness (of which phonological awareness is only one element).
Parents are primarily responsible for shaping their children’s life trajectory by how they role-model emotional resilience. If stressed-out parents react to a child’s emotions by yelling at or hitting them, or ignoring or neglecting them, they create an unsafe environment that increases the child’s stress and distrust of others. Negative parenting can affect a child’s ability to regulate emotion which creates problems in interpersonal interactions as well as learning. By contrast, parents who are able to help their child handle stressful moments and calm themselves down after a tantrum or scare often have a profoundly positive effect on the child’s long-term ability to manage stress.
Lower income families require assistance if they are to break the cycle of poverty. In addition to the many other challenges common among low-wage workers – low education levels, financial pressures, and limited opportunities – lack of childcare can be a major barrier for low-income parents limiting their ability to participate in and complete education and training. Quality daycare and childcare both before and after school accessible through high school is frequently either unavailable or sufficiently expensive to exceed the parent’s low income effectively preventing them from seeking employment.
Schools and communities can only do so much to help children succeed; much is dependent upon the child’s parents but there is only so much a low-income single parent working two jobs is able to accomplish.
It is outrageous and reprehensible to ever squander the potential of any individual, especially at a time when the talents and contributions of everyone are urgently needed. As we transition into a post-industrial economy, the importance of an advanced education becomes ever more important. We no longer can afford what for too long have essentially been “throw away” people. Isn’t it time to making the Horatio Alger myth an actual reality?
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Denis E. Waitley, is an American motivational speaker, writer, and consultant.
 Orwell, George. Animal Farm was first published in England on 17 August 1945.
 Noble, Kimberly G. Brain Trust, Scientific American, March 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-inequality-does-to-the-brain/, pp 44-49.
 Suttie, Jill. How To Help Low-Income Students Succeed, Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_low_income_students_succeed, 3 June 2016.
 Connor, Carol McDonald, and Frederick J. Morrison. Services Or Programs That Influence Young Children’s Academic Success And School Completion, Encyclopedia On Early Childhood Development, http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/school-success/according-experts/services-or-programs-influence-young-childrens-academic-success, September 2014.