America historically owns the reputation of being the land of opportunity, and for generations immigrants have fled to the United States to experience the freedom and equality our government lays claim to. At the root of this reputation is the American Dream, the belief that with hard work anyone can succeed based solely on his or her merits. While definitions of success vary, the American Dream defines it as the ability to become a "self-made man," thereby rising to a more-than-comfortable state of living. The American Dream is believed to be blind to race, sex, or socio-economic status and at a first glance, seems to be almost Utopian. Conversely, repeated examples and statistics of the lower-classes, those continually facing the harsh reality that opportunity and equality are empty promises, only prove the opposite. The countless stories of failure to reach the American Dream significantly override the few success stories that keep the myth alive. However, these few success stories keep Americans, as well as the rest of the world, believing in the false opportunities the American Dream puts forth. Although the American public is force-fed propaganda to believe the American Dream is attainable to everyone, numerous obstacles prevent the lower class in America from reaching the "self-made man" myth.
For generations, Americans have been led to believe that the American Dream is realistic through propaganda. For example, advocates readily use the example of Benjamin Franklin, a self-educated man who "rose from modest origins to become a renowned scientist, philosopher, and statesman," as a prime example of the validity of the American Dream (Money 295). Who better to use as an example than one of the forefathers of a country that prides itself on supposed equal opportunity? In addition to Franklin, advocates use the present-day example of Colin Powell, an African-American who can also be considered a "self-made man," since he went from the ghetto streets of the Bronx to become the highest ranking military officer (Blue 306). These examples and others are quickly used to extinguish the thought that perhaps the American Dream can only be a myth to the lower classes. In the same vein, those who attempt to disprove the American Dream are considered un-American, and so are quickly silenced. However, these few success stories and accusations cannot change the truth, the American Dream is not equally attainable to all.
Education is known to be the key to success, but due to unequal education in America, children are given dissimilar opportunities to achieve the American Dream. In his book, Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol illustrates lower-class schools: "four of the six toilets do not work…some of the books are missing the first hundred pages…sometimes there's a teacher present doing something at his desk. Sometimes there's no adult in the room" (33-37). The learning atmosphere at this school cannot be compared to those of an upper-class school that provides not only clean and motivating learning environments, but a challenging and technically advanced curriculum as well. A study conducted by Richard de Lone of the Carnegie Council on Children in the 1970's revealed the effects of different learning conditions when he found a direct relationship between social class and scores on standardized tests such as the SAT (Mantsios 329). Fifteen years after the original study, College Board surveys expose statistics that continue to prove, "the higher the student's social status, the higher the probability that he or she will get higher grades" (Mantsios 329). Although numerous lower-class students refuse to become a statistic and succeed academically through high school, additional studies reveal that these same students are still four times less likely to receive a post graduate degree than a student from an upper-class family (Mantsios 330). However, this unfortunate statistic is not due to lack of hard work, as an advocator...
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Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities. New York: Harper Collins, 1991
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