Why don’t smart poor kids go to Harvard? | By: Leila Davids

Why don’t smart poor kids go to Harvard? | By: Leila Davids

Malcolm-Gladwell-smMalcolm Gladwell has been described by the Guardian as the King of Non Fiction. In his new podcast, “Revisionist History” Gladwell translates his gripping narrative style from the written word to audio. He shares new insights into stories from the past that have been forgotten or issues that have been misunderstood.

In his most recent podcast, “Carlos doesn’t remember” Gladwell explores why smart poor kids don’t go to universities like Harvard despite financial structures to do so.

Gladwell argues that capitalisation, the metric that assesses the percentage of people in a given group who are able to meet their potential as one of the most powerful metrics by which to measure a country’s progress. Better even than GDP as a descriptor of growth.

But, he asks, is America any good at capitalisation? If you’re born poor can you really move up, if you work hard can you really improve your life?

We follow Carlos (not his real name) – a talented, smart kid from a poor family living in a bad Los Angeles neighbourhood who is given the opportunity through the Eric Eisner’s Yes Programme to attend an elite private school in the leafy suburbs of Brentwood.

We learn just how hard it is for Carlos to overcome troubling family circumstances, cope with the economic realities of poverty and the consequences of violence. We see that the difference between being privileged and being poor incudes the number of chances you get, that talent is fragile and that potential needs deep and abiding support to transform into success.

Each year America leaves a huge amount of talent on the table. In a seminal paper, Hoxby and Avery dispute the assertion that smart disadvantaged kids in the US are rare – they estimate that about 35,000 students from low income households score in the 90th percentile or above on their college test scores per year, yet very few even apply to selective colleges. This is despite the fact that with certain financing structures even an elite university like Harvard is cheaper than a state college.

The parallels with South Africa and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation are all too clear. Like Eisner’s Yes programme we know that you can pretty predictably find smart, talented children at disadvantaged schools, we believe that selecting high potential learners at a relatively young age makes a difference, and we recognise that placing talented learners in quality education gives them a greater chance at success.

Like Gladwell, we utilise the concept of capitalisation aiming to provide and unlock opportunities for our Scholars and Candidate Fellows to meet their potential, to make the most of their ability. This we believe, will in turn, increase the likelihood of more smart, poor kids going to Harvard. Even if they come from as far away as South Africa.

By: Leila Davids

 

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