Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gene Marks is apparently not a poor black child in West Philadelphia

PhillyGrrl and Dan Denvir have already hopped on Gene Marks for his "if I were a poor black child" piece for Forbes, but it really is breathtaking in its awfulness. Marks writes about what he would do, as a poor black child in West Philadelphia, to stop being so poor.

Shorter Marks: "If I were a poor black kid, I'd use all the advantages I have from not being a poor black kid."

Sound too harsh? Check out these two, entirely representative paragraphs: 
If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study. I’d become expert at Google Scholar. I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes andCliffsNotes to help me understand books. I’d watch relevant teachings onAcademic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy. (I say relevant because some of these lectures may not be related to my work or too advanced for my age. But there are plenty of videos on these sites that are suitable to my studies and would help me stand out.) I would also, when possible, get my books for free at Project Gutenberg and learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbookand Wikipedia to help me with my studies. 
I would use homework tools like Backpack, and Diigo to help me store and share my work with other classmates. I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school. I would take advantage of study websites like Evernote, Study Rails, Flashcard Machine, Quizlet, and free online calculators.
All you have to do to not be a poor black child is hop on your computer and go online!

Here's the problem: That's not actually an option for lots and lots and lots of poor kids in this town. At one North Philadelphia school, it's estimated that only 25 percent of the students have access to a computer and the Internet at home. A year ago, the Knight Foundation estimated that 40 percent of Philadelphia residents do not have home Internet service. 

And the Public Health Management Corporation not-so-long-ago released this survey of Philadelphia Internet habits. Among the findings:
• Philadelphia residents are more likely to be non-Internet users than are their suburban counterparts. More than a quarter (27.3%) of Philadelphia adults do not use the Internet. 
• For those who do not use the Internet, the most common reason cited was lack of access. More than one-third of adults who do not use the Internet (36.5%) indicated they did not have access or did not have a computer.

• Poverty was also a factor. Adults living in poverty are much more likely to be non-Internet users than are non-poor adults: 42.5% of adults living below the federal poverty line do not use the Internet, versus 16.0% of adults living above the federal poverty line.2 Latino adults (34.7%) and black adults (28.1%) are more likely to be non-Internet users than white adults (15.6%).
There aren't really numbers here to indicate the level of access that Philadelphia's "poor black kids" have to online resources like the ones described by Marks, but it's not hard to draw a conclusion from all the other numbers: That access is most likely insufficient.

There are other problems with his essay: He urges kids—the one, ahem, reading Forbes—to aim at getting in a magnet school. Which sounds great, but isn't easy: They have restricted-size enrollments, and getting in can be a bit of a crapshoot.

Overall, the tone of Marks' essay reminds me of an old Sam Kinison bit about hunger in Africa. The answer to the problem, Kinison would scream, is to go "LIVE WHERE THE FOOD IS!" Which is both obvious and dumb. It's nice, I guess, that Marks is thinking about the plight of poor black kids in Philadelphia. It's just too bad there's little evidence he's tried to understand the challenges that are actually involved.

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