Writing Catalog

Colin Hsieh

Grade: 11

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Scott Boehnen

Cleveland's Education Inequalities

Critical Essay

Cleveland's Education Inequalities

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court announced their verdict on the case of Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that education policies of "separate but equal" were unconstitutional. A landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education deemed the segregation of schools unjust and stressed the importance of education equality among all students. Yet, more than half a decade later, a federal judge ruled that the Cleveland School District must desegregate its schools, as if the school desegregation had never happened (Riley-Collins). The reality of Cleveland's education highlights glaring inequities. In a study of the Cleveland Municipal District, a ProPublica report found that, on average, black students were 1.8 grades behind their white counterparts. Meanwhile, the same study found that white students were, on average, 1.9 times more likely to be enrolled in gifted or talented programs than their black peers. Why is it that, 67 years later, education inequities still plague Cleveland? Why is it that the average black Clevelander is robbed of the most basic education? Cleveland's education inequalities are a result of a multifaceted collage of factors including inter-community poverty rates as well as additional impediments like parents' racial biases in school choices and Cleveland's voucher-funding system. However, steps can be taken to mitigate such inequalities, like the adoption of new funding plans that would help finance communities in need as well as facilitating community discussions around racial bias in education to help limit the effects of such biases through increasing people's consciousness of discriminatory practices.

Cleveland's inequalities in education stem from the city's poverty rate. Specifically, the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission found that the majority of impoverished citizens are concentrated in the inner city of Cleveland, at around 32.7% of citizens living below the poverty line. However, this disparity lessens as one moves out of the city, with 15.0% of citizens living in Cleveland's inner ring suburbs and only 5.1% of citizens living in Cleveland's outer ring suburbs living below the poverty line. Thus, poverty and income inequality appear in Cleveland based on districts. Ohio's system of education funding then exacerbates this inequality. More specifically, Ohio funds schools based on the property taxes of its citizens, meaning that richer districts receive more funding while poorer districts receive less funding (Warren). This inequality creates districts where higher educational attainment is harder because the public education is not sufficiently funded to help its residents. Additionally, impoverished populations cannot move from their districts as they lack the necessary finances. Therefore, impoverished communities are stuck with poor quality education and are unable to move up the social ladder. This lack of social mobility translates to district-wide, low education levels. The Cuyahoga County Planning Commission found that 19.2% of citizens in the city of Cleveland had an education level less than a high school diploma, while 8.2% of citizens in Cleveland's inner ring suburbs and 4.1% of citizens in Cleveland's outer ring suburbs had an education level less than a high school diploma. Moreover, high education levels are significantly better in districts not restricted by funding. The Cuyahoga County Planning Commission found that 6.6% of citizens in the city of Cleveland had and education level at a master's degree or higher, while 13.2% of citizens in Cleveland's inner ring suburbs and 20.5% of citizens in Cleveland's outer ring suburbs had an education level at a master's degree or higher. As a result, poverty is robbing education opportunities for those in Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods.

Poverty's impact is not limited to a student's school year, as it has created a cyclical, intergenerational trap for impoverished citizens, hitting Cleveland's black communities the hardest. Indeed, a study conducted by Stellenbosch University concluded that low education levels create a poverty trap for the already impoverished because low education results in worse labor market opportunities (Van der Berg). Companies do not want to hire workers with low education levels, which spits the already struggling populace back into poverty as these workers must settle for low-paying jobs. The result is that impoverished children are fated to grow up without the financial support they need, and are thus stuck in districts with poor education, perpetuating a never-ending cycle of poverty. This system has severely devastated Cleveland's black communities. In Cleveland, the median black household's income is $32,000, $8,000 less than the national average income for black households and $16,000 less than Ohio's average white household income (Holzman). With lower household income, impoverished black communities cannot substantially educate their children, locking them in a cyclical poverty trap. Thus, the effects of poverty are not limited to low educational attainment as they have created a vicious trap, locking the average black Clevelander into a merciless and interminable cycle of poverty.

Additional factors like parents' racial biases and Ohio's voucher-funding system have also perpetuated education inequities in Cleveland. Specifically, parents' racial bias plays a role in segregating Cleveland's school communities. In a study of Cleveland's school districts, Cornell University found that racial bias affects white parents' choices in sending their children to schools with a significant population of black students. Due to anxieties about their children's prospects, white parents pull their children out of certain schools and make different enrollment decisions, even when education differences and school quality are not significantly different among prospective schools (Fry). This bias exacerbates education inequalities by concentrating black students away from their white counterparts, segregating communities by districts and county-lines. Another outside factor that aggravates Cleveland's education inequalities is Cuyahoga County's financial voucher system. This voucher system is meant to help underfunded school districts by diverting funding from richer districts to poorer districts by categorizing such unfunded areas using a system called EdChoice. However, because policymakers have put an increasing number of restrictions on which school districts can be worthy of the EdChoice financing, crucial funding is increasingly diverted away from public sector education to private schools (Kaeser). This system progressively amplifies structures of education inequality as impoverished districts that can barely support their own schools now have to pay for students that do not even attend the schools they fund. In fact, the way that Ohio finances its education system is so defunct that experts like Susie Kaeser, an Ohio education specialist, explain that, "Ohio's school funding system is broken". Ohio's funding system is fundamentally defective, harming the very communities it is supposed to serve. Therefore, Ohio's education inequalities not only stem from intrinsic racial biases among parents but also originate from a defunct funding system designed to help solve educacion inequities.

However, Cleveland's education inequalities can be solved. Indeed, a bill passed by the Ohio legislature would enact the Fair School Funding Plan, an overhaul to Ohio's education funding system that could both solve Cleveland's poverty problem and Ohio's unequal voucher-funding system. Specifically, the new model would become a state-funded system in which the funding given to each sector is weighted based on the wealth of each school district and the students they serve. The new model would also streamline the funding process by establishing direct funding from the state to the public schools and eliminating the House model in which a bureaucratic oversight commission overviewed funding (Tebben). This model would help the problem of Cleveland's poverty restricting education access as impoverished school districts would not have to rely on unsubstantial property taxes to fund their districts. The current system relies on property taxes, which hurts impoverished communities the most because those impoverished can't provide substantial tax money, hurting the school districts funding. Thus, the new model would supplement districts' current funding with funding from the state and optimize the needs of each district by weighting impoverished districts higher. Moreover, the Fair School Funding Plan would be able to solve for the inequities perpetuated by the voucher-funding system. Specifically, the new model would keep the EdChoice school vouchers, but instead would be funded through the state's funding instead of being deducted from the budgets of other districts (Tebben). This would alleviate pressures on public schools as crucial funding would not be diverted away from impoverished districts, helping bring pivotal finances back to districts in need. Thus, the Fair School Funding Plan would be able to provide a long term solution to the problem of education inequalities in Cleveland by helping the funding of impoverished school districts. In fact, according to Rick Lewis, the chief executive office of the Ohio School Board Association,"enacting this funding model represents a generational investment that will thrust Ohio forward into an era of stable and predictable education budgets to help schools meet the needs of all students" (Tebben). With the new funding plan, the state can help target the education needs of all students in the state and in Cleveland, helping end the structural inequities that perpetuate Cleveland's education inequalities.

Likewise, the racial threat bias prevalent in parents' choices in their childrens' education can also be prevented. Frequent community discussions can be coordinated by local governments and organizations to spur dialogue on the effects of racial bias in education choices (Fry). Such discussions could implement strategies of long-term racial bias reduction, including contact opportunities (seeking to engage in positive interactions with members out of one's own group), stereotype replacement (identifying and replacing stereotypical responses with non-stereotypical responses) and individuation (obtaining specific information about individual group members rather than relying on group-based attributes). Other possible strategies could also include counter-stereotypic imaging (developing positive examples of counter-stereotypic "others" like smart black people) and perspective taking (taking the first-person perspective of a member of a stereotyped group) (Devine). Greater understanding and acknowledgement of the prevalence of racial bias in decision making could ultimately decrease its effect in society as people would become more conscious of the role racial bias has in proceedings like the education process. Thus, developing community discussions centered around countering racial bias in the school-choosing process could ultimately prevent unfounded biases of racial minorities from manifesting in Cleveland's education system. Other advocates of desegregating school communities have argued that the solution for solving racial bias in education is to push for reformed school boundaries and selection criteria centered around a racial-equity perspective (Chatterji). While this may solve for some of the latent racial bias within the school-making process, it will only exacerbate such bias in the long term. This is because top-down programs, designed around changing decisions at the top of the political process, would only result in discontent among parents because they would view the implementation of such programs as proof that the government is not looking out for their decisions and the subsequent safety of their children. For example, instances of education reform in Maryland were met with uproar from parents who believed that such reforms would undermine the work they had put into moving to more affluent neighborhoods. One superintendent's plan to alleviate school crowding was even met with a death threat (Chatterji). However, bottom-up programs, like community discussions centered around changing perspectives and countering bias in the people, would have a much better chance at long-term racial bias reduction because they would fundamentally change the position such parents take in the first place. As such, bottom-up programs would be the better way to solve for racial bias in the school-choosing process as they would fundamentally counter the bases for racial bias, not the byproduct that top-down programs target. Thus, community discussions would be a more effective method of counteracting racial bias in school as they would stop the basis for such discrimination at its root, helping fight the structural inequities plaguing Cleveland's education system today.

At the end of the day, everyone deserves a quality education. Indeed, America prides itself on its ideal of the "American dream," that all people have the equal opportunity to achieve success and reach their dreams. And yet, education disparities have rendered such aspirations impossible, refusing Cleveland's communities the ability to pull themselves out of poverty. Cleveland's education inequalities run rampant through the city, harming communities on a daily basis. Such disparities are a consequence of communities' poverty, and its subsequent cyclical trap, as well as additional impediments like parents' racial bias in school choices and Cleveland's voucher funding system. However, the problem is not a lost cause, as new education plans would be able to consolidate Cleveland's funding system and deliver crucial financing to communities in need while bypassing the original voucher system that harmed many districts. Moreover, sparking new community discussion around race in education would facilitate ground up reductions in racial bias by increasing peoples' consciousness of discriminatory practices. However, such solutions are not the end-all for education inequalities in our city. To truly combat Cleveland's education disparities, we must shift our paradigm away from complacency with our inadequate system and towards constructing a new education structure focussed on combating such inequities. Even those not affected by such education inequities cannot truly, in good conscience, be content with the status quo, knowing that people are deprived of the very education that defines the American dream, not because of their character, but by their race and by factors outside of their control. If we truly are complacent with such inequalities, we rob ourselves of the moral character that brings our city of Cleveland together. It is therefore an imperative for our city to collectively rise up and face such inequalities head on, in the hopes that Cleveland never again sees a Brown v. Board of Education moment, but that our city is bound together in a fundamental understanding of equality.

The Dreams of Power and the Power of Dreams: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Great Gatsby

Critical Essay

The Dreams of Power and the Power of Dreams: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby has remained as one of the quintessential staples of American literature since its initial publication in 1925. Centering on the story of Jay Gatsby and his pursuit of Daisy Buchanan's love, the novel represents themes of love, dreaming, and materialism to its readers in a complex and compelling narrative. Interestingly, throughout the decades, generations of readers have gravitated back to the novel, rereading and reanalyzing its text, searching for Fitzgerald's hidden lessons as if they have held importance to all Americans, no matter the time period. By using the experiences of Jay Gatsby, what lessons about American society and dreaming has Fitzgerald taught his audience throughout the years? Fitzgerald critiques Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy's love as an unattainable dream, rooted in nostalgia and ignorant of the social hierarchy that dominates modern America. And yet, Fitzgerald commends Gatsby for his cruelly optimistic dream as it gives him a higher purpose in life above the materialistic and cynical American society, a prospect in life that Fitzgerald argues all people should take.

Fitzgerald centralizes his message by stressing the symbolism in Gatsby's individual dream. This symbolism is apparent in two examples that appear in the second paragraph. First, Fitzgerald returns to and emblemizes the green light, writing that Nick "thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock." Throughout the book, the green light has come to foment itself as the physical manifestation of Gatsby's dream of achieving Daisy's love and the money and social status he wishes to achieve to woo Daisy. Indeed, the color green is symbolically related to monetary wealth as paper denominations in the early 20th century were minted in green. Additionally, the green light represents a physical separation between Daisy and Gatsby that Gatsby hopes to shorten as the green light exists at "the end of Daisy's dock", stressing Gatsby's and Daisy's house physical separation across the Sound. As a result, the green light comes to symbolize Gatsby's dream of achieving the monetary and social status to win Daisy's love as well as to shorten the physical distance between them. Fitzgerald stresses this dream's importance to Gatsby, using words like "wonder" to capture Gatsby's hopeful ambition of achieving his dream and the subsequent captivation it holds on his life. However, the nature of the green light also lends itself to skepticism of Gatsby's dream and its potential achievability. Green lights are not commonly a natural occurrence, but rather an artificially manufactured light source created by humans for their own enjoyment. As a result, symbolizing Gatsby's dream with a green light suggests an artificiality to his dream, that Gatsby's has created this dream for himself with no knowledge of the natural reality that exists in the world.

This artificiality is stressed in the second instance of symbolism in the paragraph as Fitzgerald writes that Gatsby "did not know that [his dream] was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." This symbolic representation of Gatsby's dream holds two connotations. First, it represents a physical difference between Gatsby's dream and reality as Gatsby initially found his love for Daisy in Louisville, Kentucky, not in New York City where Gatsby attempts to woo Daisy again, a fact stressed by Fitzgerald's explanation that Gatsby's dream is "beyond the city." Second, it represents a temporal contrast between Gatsby's dream and reality as Gatsby found his love for Daisy five years before he attempted to win Daisy's love in New York City. Indeed, Fitzgerald explains that Gatsby's dream is "already behind him" and "somewhere back in that vast obscurity," alluding to Gatsby's dream being based in a past that is "behind" Gatsby's place in the present. Thus, Gatsby's dream is not representative of an achievable dream in the present, but instead in an unachievable representation based in a past experience from a different state, setting up an unrealistic expectation for Gatsby. As a result, the two symbolic passages serve to highlight the Gatsby's expectations while simultaneously implying their inherent unachievably.

Fitzgerald uses his representation of Gatsby's dream to then criticize modern American society. Specifically, he first starts by comparing it to the grand, yet achievable, dream that Dutch sailors first encountered when seeing the New World by employing distinct imagery to stress the difference between the past and the present. For example, Fitzgerald emphasizes the opportunities of the New World by writing that the New York was "a fresh, green breast" that "flowered once for Dutch Sailors' eyes." Fitzgerald's use of "fresh" and "flowered" serve to emphasize the almost limitless opportunities of the New World for the Dutch Sailors who don't have to contend with any restraints to their dreams. So, by representing the New World as a previously natural environment, open to all opportunities, Fitzgerald draws contrast with the seemingly limitless of the past to the spoiled, modernized, and cynical restrictions of the present. Additionally, Fitzgerald use of "fresh," "green," and "flowered" evoke images of bright plants and flowers whose brilliance is a representation of those opportunities that the Dutch sailors could hope to achieve. On the other hand, Fitzgerald uses darker imagery to call attention to the lack of opportunity in modern America. For example, Fitzgerald writes that in New York, "there were hardly any lights except the shadowy moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound." Through the use of phrases like "hardly any lights," Fitzgerald paints a picture of physical darkness in modern America, a representative of the lack of opportunity that most people face. Indeed, by drawing contrast between the brightness of America's past and the darkness of its present, one can infer that the limitless dreams that the Dutch sailors held have faded in their achievability in the present. Additionally, Fitzgerald goes farther in representing the lack of possibility in achieving modern American dreams by describing the "shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound." Indeed, the ferryboat's light, like Gatsby's green light, represents the dreams of modern Americans in that they are not rooted and secure, but instead transitory and "shadowy," constantly moving and conforming to the momentary values of modern American society. Thus, by representing the contrast the difference between past dreams and dreams in modern America through imagery, Fitzgerald calls attention to the unattainability of Gatsby's dream.

Fitzgerald then uses this representation of Gatsby's dream to comment on the state of American society in general and the place for American's dreams in it. Specifically, in the third and fourth paragraphs, Fitzgerald utilizes the first-person plural point of view combined with an optimistic tone to enforce his point. For example, Fitzgerald writes that our dreams "eluded us then, but that's no matter." By employing words like "us" and "we," Fitzgerald extends the subject of the paragraphs to the reader, momentarily making them the center of attention and calling attention to their issues. As a result, the message that Fitzgerald wishes to call attention now holds more weight and persists longer in a reader's mind as they are no longer passively observing a story, but actively engaging in the analysis. Additionally, Fitzgerald's optimistic tone serves to both represent Gatsby's dream, and then, by extension, comment on American's dreams by proclaiming that although they may be unachievable in the present, they may be achievable in the near future.

In this crucial idea, Fitzgerald presents the crux of his argument about American society; as American society has progressed, it has become more cynical as the rich have achieved all their dreams and do not dream any longer. Indeed, it is through Gatsby's story that Fitzgerald makes his argument: although Gatsby believed in his love for Daisy, Daisy never equally reciprocated his feelings, nor did those around him view him more than a host of entertaining parties, because they all believed in the existing social hierarchy that dominated American society. Gatsby, as a newcomer making his money through the illegal selling of alcohol, did not have the social standing necessary to garner respect among the New York elite, a fact made painfully honest when practically none come to pay their respects at his funeral. Instead, American society is dominated by an intrinsic social hierarchy that respects those with old, inherited wealth. However, by making such a class the most respected and praised social class, those within such a class have no desire to improve themselves nor subscribe to a dream; after all they are living the dream that any other American would want to have. Tom and Daisy become the representations of this idea in Fitzgerald's story. Indeed, Fitzgerald writes that "they were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made…." The world, for Tom and Daisy and all others with inherited wealth, is nothing more than a playground for their whims, not anything more. As a result, they are not motivated by ideas of morality or dreams to pursue, and as a result act in their own momentary self-interests rather than higher ideals, leading them to act sporadically and then retreat immediately from society to satisfy themselves with their money and personal possessions. And for this fundamental truth that now dominates American society, Fitzgerald criticizes Gatsby's dream, attributing his failure in achieving his dream to a fundamental misunderstanding in the achievability of his dream. Indeed, Fitzgerald argues that Gatsby could never have won Daisy's true love because Daisy never saw him as more than a passing love, a whim she could experiment with.

However, Fitzgerald does not argue that Americans should give up their dreams; in fact, he argues the exact opposite, that lofty ideals are what make humanity fundamentally human. For example, Fitzgerald's use of an optimistic tone explains this point perfectly because although he acknowledges that humanity's goals may be unattainable, he still promotes the chasing of goals no matter if they can be achieved. Our lofty and unattainable goals give us missions to work for, and the loftier and more unattainable, the harder we will work for them. This analysis of American society served as Fitzgerald's commentary on the American society of the time. Indeed, The Great Gatsby was written during the 1920s, an era of American history dominated by the prohibition of alcohol and, paradoxically, the national crave for liquor. In such a society of immense wealth and simultaneously relaxed morals, Fitzgerald wished to cement his views, using Gatsby's story to describe the cynical cruelty of American society. However, Fitzgerald's story was never meant to discourage those from pursuing dreams, but rather to encourage them to do so. We can all learn from Gatsby's story; although our dreams may be cruelly optimistic and seemingly impossible to achieve, they give our lives a higher morality and a passion to strive for, a meaning to our existence in the never-ending inconsistency and unfairness of the world.