“If I Were a Poor Black Kid”

by Robert Pondiscio
December 14th, 2011

I write about education.  I read a lot about education.  And every now and then I read a piece that is so original, so smart, and so incisive that all I can say is, “Damn. I wish I’d written that.”

This is not one of them.


  1. A couple of interesting responses from Atlantic columnists…



    Comment by Rachel — December 14, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  2. McArdle’s piece was very incisive, well worth the read, especially relative to the piece in Forbes.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — December 15, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  3. We’re much like a well oiled machine….as long as we transfer blame and responsibility nothing will change much, or for long, in this very big picture of education in America. What has come of the public outcry over “Waiting for Superman”? Are those movements moving mountains or making waves that will eventually dissipate, temporarily creating a mirage of change? Either we take an individual stance to help bring about systematic change, and persevere, or we don’t.

    Comment by Elie — December 15, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

  4. Ok this column is easy to be sanctimonious about but I dare all the readers and columnists of the blog to deny that they have had more than once where they encountered the consequence of poverty and education and not felt why would that parent or kid make that choice? Don’t they know? Your not human if you have not. Underneath the column Forbes notes that it has generated numerous commentary and links to a few. Condemning is easy, now can you take what he suggests and figure out what are the policy opportunities? Take technology -what if you did put computer lab/libraries with extended hours and training would that help? I don’t know but we all know poverty is multi-faceted so what and how do you start to make a change?

    Comment by DC Parent — December 15, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

  5. What’s especially irritating is that there’s a speck of truth in the piece, but it’s presented in a patronizing, arrogant, and hackneyed way. (The author doesn’t even observe good grammar; throughout the piece, he writes “If I was a poor black boy,” not “If I were…”)

    The speck of truth is that yes, students do need to recognize and seize the resources and opportunities available to them. Now, most children do not go far beyond what is known and accepted in their peer groups and families. It takes a rare kid (of any background) to stake out alone and seek out knowledge or make contacts. And often it takes perspective that children and adults typically lack. How many people know how to seek out things unknown to them?

    But yes, if the majority of students actually pursued learning, we’d have quite different schools today. This wouldn’t end poverty or close all gaps. But more young people would be at least nominally prepared for adult life (workplace, college, and more). And schools would have more focus and momentum.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — December 17, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

  6. Oops, “kid,” not “boy.”

    Comment by Diana Senechal — December 17, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  7. Ms. Senechal,

    Your “adult life” may be quite different than that of the kid (not “boy”) who pursues learning in a different world than yours. It may be nice for you to imagine he really does want to live in you world, where workplace, college and more coexist, but he may not. He may not even know it exists. He may hate it when he sees it. He may want to destroy it because of its repression, its arrogance and imperialism. And he may well be right.

    Comment by Joe Beckmann — December 18, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  8. You can have people take and interest and even hold up the realistic promise of a paid college education, but there are an awful lot of tings that can trip you up along the way. For a real case study see the Washington Post piece on 59 kids from a very poor neighborhood that were promised college. Only 11 were able to graduate from College and 13 from a trade school. Those are losses our society cannot afford but something more is obviously needed.


    Comment by DC Parent — December 18, 2011 @ 9:21 pm

  9. Even when kids are middle class/upper class and receive a good K-12 eduction, fewer than 80% enroll in college. And, as in lower SES groups, many drop out along the way (and more probably would except for family pressure). That says to me that college does not meet the needs of a substantial proportion of our youth. The credential is seen as valuable, but the learning is not.

    Comment by balsam — December 19, 2011 @ 11:37 am

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