In Praise of Unequal Outcomes

Physicist Niels Bohr said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” Yogi Berra had nothing on the Nobel Prize winner. In certain ways, however, the future is actually quite easy to predict. Take, for example, the self-fulfilling prophecy. This is defined as a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true—by the very terms of the prophecy itself.

Self-fulfilling prophecies cut two ways, which serves to demonstrate the remarkable power of one’s mindset, whether its outlook is fundamentally optimistic or pessimistic. A self-fulfilling prophecy is powerful precisely because it is its own cause—bringing about its own realization via the positive feedback loop between a belief—even if that belief is false—and the resulting behavior. In the end, the belief, the behavior, and the ultimate realization are all part of the same cloth. We can see this clearly enough in hindsight, but the causal nature of the prophecy blurs the factor of time, which, rather than being linear, is circular.

Many people have come to believe that human beings are too trapped by one element or another of embodiment (think identity politics) to ever transcend their situations and arrive at a truth beyond the borders of their own lives and circumstances—in other words, their true selves. They conclude that their outlook is so shaped—and opportunity circumscribed—by their culture, race, gender, and social and economic position that the kind of objectivity that can lead to empowerment becomes nothing more than an elusive dream. We see this thinking play out in entire communities that share a common set of expectations. Again, this cuts both ways. Like the snake that eats its own tail, the self-fulfilling prophecy also feeds on itself.

But self-fulfilling prophecies that perpetuate negative or destructive cycles—poverty, single-parent homes, poor education, lack of opportunity, homelessness, drug addictions, crime—are never cast in stone. They, too, are ultimately mental constructs, and as such, they are utterly at the mercy of one’s will. A community, if it has the desire and will to do so, can graft a completely different narrative into its prophecy and thereby realize a very different future. Indeed, identity is nothing but a nested set of narratives—narratives of who you are, what you believe, what you can or cannot do. In the end, whatever it is that you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right!

Now let me prove this.

Schools are ostensibly one of the “goods” that government does for (or is it to?) us. But what about charter schools that operate outside the public school system? Not only do most of them consistently outperform public schools, they also expose the antibiotic action of the education establishment.

The National Education Association (the largest labor union and professional interest group in the United States), which actually has nothing to do with education, is doing everything in its power—and it has a lot of power—to shut down charter schools. There’s a lot of information in this. In one example of their propaganda, an NEA task force, focused on the “problem” of charter schools, claims that their explosive growth has led to the rise of “separate and unequal systems … that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools.” To that, I can only say, “Thank God!” Let’s see what kind of inequality they’re talking about.

In Chicago, to highlight just one city, the graduation rate for African-American boys is less than 50 percent (and that’s after fudging the numbers to make them look better). Of these, only half are accepted to some form of college. In other words, the prospects of higher education—let alone those of receiving a basic education—for these kids are not good. Yet right in the middle of one of the toughest neighborhoods sits Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies. It’s all male and all black, and every member of its graduating classes has been admitted into a four-year college, ten years running.

So the NEA is right—the charter schools do, indeed, produce an unequal outcome. How, then, do they propose that we equalize things? Presumably by drastically reducing graduation and college acceptance rates of charter school students! What is the alternative? If you’re thinking that any such alternative involves raising the standards of the public schools in order to produce these kinds of outcomes, you’re quite mistaken.

Likewise, the leadership of the NAACP actually—and formally—called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, as well as strengthening oversight in governance and practice over the existing ones. Incredible, isn’t it? The reason for this is clear: the runaway success of charter schools fundamentally threatens and erodes the powerbase of the corrupt education establishment.

Even the unprecedented against-all-odds success of inner city youth in whom these amazing schools instill qualities of grit and persistence and possibility can’t be allowed to stand in the way of such a power agenda. Instead of finding ways to scale up and expand this kind of success, they’d rather just shut it down. Indeed, charter schools produce stunning results for disadvantaged students, and they, in fact, dominate the top high school rankings nationally. This is no secret. And yet NEA President Lily Eskelsen García claims that independent charter schools “jeopardize” student success, “undermine” public education, and “harm” communities—summing them up as “a failed and damaging experiment.” As such, she calls for an end to their proliferation in order to “preserve funding for public schools, and to organize charter school teachers.” In other words, as long as they’re able to continue collecting union dues from their three-million-plus members and maintain their positions of power, to hell with the students and the state of their communities.

This predatory mindset works hand-in-glove with the self-fulfilling narratives that perpetuate the cycles of poverty and underperformance realized in so many struggling communities—communities that these organizations claim to “serve.”

In charter schools we see very different outcomes and possibilities demonstrated by the success of alternative education systems that are equipping and inspiring young minds—and unleashing massive human potential in the process. That they are thwarted by backward-looking but power-hungry bureaucrats, union bosses, and other special interests should rally the collective resolve to overthrow them, and throw support to innovative solutions that are producing outstanding results.

Urban Prep Academies was created in direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal graduation and college completion rates among boys in urban public schools. Their leadership explains, “While most of Urban Prep students come to the schools from economically disadvantaged households and are behind in many subject areas, Urban Prep remains committed to preparing all of its students for college and life.”

What’s more, it is tuition-free, with admission based on a random lottery process with no evaluation of test scores, grades or special needs. No cherry-picking of students employed here to achieve their outstanding results. Seniors from the Class of 2019 have been accepted to 162 colleges and universities and have amassed over $10 million in scholarships and grants.

How do they do it? They do it by breaking the cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy, saying “no thank you” to the government-established and union-controlled education establishment; they do it by inculcating the skills of critical thinking and instilling a mindset of possibility in their students. And they reinforce this big idea every morning as the students recite the Urban Prep creed:

  • We believe.
  • We are the young men of Urban Prep.
  • We are college bound.
  • We are exceptional—not because we say it, but because we work hard at it.
  • We will not falter in the face of any obstacle placed before us.
  • We are dedicated, committed and focused.
  • We never succumb to mediocrity, uncertainty or fear.
  • We never fail because we never give up.
  • We make no excuses.
  • We choose to live honestly, nonviolently and honorably.
  • We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people.
  • We have a future for which we are accountable.
  • We have a responsibility to our families, community and world.
  • We are our brothers’ keepers.
  • We believe in ourselves.
  • We believe in each other.
  • We believe in Urban Prep.

This ought to take your breath away. This is what fostering change in the human heart looks like. Imagine scaling this kind of respect and reverence for the sanctity of young minds—wherever they may be—across the global landscape.

Would not this kind of restructuring for human potential lead us to a complete reimagining of the future? Would it not provide the maximum opportunity for students to participate fully in their futures?

Moreover, the critical thinking that inherently attends this approach will be essential to enabling our students—our future leaders—to find the true signal in the noise of this increasingly fragmented and disintegrated, multiple-choice world. These are the skills we must be teaching our kids—and not solely in an academic environment. These skills must also be tied to the development of our students’ values, life choices, and goals, as they are inheriting a very different kind of world that will be attended by very different psychological demands.

Alvin Toffler brought a remarkable perspective to this idea as he considered ancillary dimensions to one of the symptoms of “future shock,” the problem of “overchoice.” When this condition deepens, as it certainly will, the person who lacks a clear grasp of his own mission and values in life will become progressively crippled. “Yet the more crucial the question of values becomes,” he wrote, “the less willing our present schools are to grapple with it. It is no wonder that millions of young people trace erratic pathways into the future, ricocheting this way and that like unguided missiles. Worse yet, students are seldom encouraged to analyze their own values and those of their teachers and peers. Millions pass through the education system without once having been forced to search out the contradictions in their own value systems, to probe their own life goals deeply.”

On the other hand, the leadership of the NEA can console themselves with equal outcomes.

This essay is adapted from the book, After Shock, edited by John Schroeter.

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