Institutional ism

I had my resume on briefly a while ago, when I’d quit my job before finding a new one, and before I decided to stay and fight. Despite having a good resume, I got no hits at all for a couple days. Nobody even read it. Then I realized that I should go through and fill out the different education/qualification fields, even though they were on my resume.

First offer came in the next morning, and kept coming until I took it down. Here’s why that sucks, beyond the obvious cautionary tale.

I just finished reading “Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams” by Darcy Frey. It’s about basketball but also the horrible conditions for kids growing up in Coney Island, and the institutions that exploit those who can play basketball.

Here’s the bind for a kid, even one who can play well enough at the high school level that they’re chased by recruiters: they have a crap education, so they can’t pass the SAT barrier required by the NCAA. If they’re amazingly talented, they can go pro out of high school. If they’re lucky, they can attend a junior college and hopefully transfer to a four-year school from there. Or they can get tutoring that tries to cover the gaps in their horrible education before they take the SAT tests.

Mostly, though, when the recruiters realize they’re not going to get a high enough SAT score, they’re dropped, and that’s the end of them.

Now for a second, imagine if they couldn’t play basketball, and all they got was the horrible education. Even if they were smart and dedicated, they’re screwed. They have to get out into the workplace, work their way into a full-time position (which is a difficult road) and find somewhere that’ll help with tuition. So that’s years before they’ve got a shot.

By contrast, take me. I grew up in the Kent-Renton area, attended schools in the Kent School District, which is no great shakes but compared to any account of the horrible state of inner-city schools (and, in “Last Shot” the Coney Island ones) seems like a paradise. Everyone I know in my class with half a mind to going to college managed it. If you were reasonably smart, you went to Western or the UW or some obscure college in Minnesota, and if you weren’t, you went to WSU (or, in fairness, if you wanted a good communications degree). Even those of us who went to public in-state universities and still took out
Stafford loans and worked in the library or other hapless jobs for a penny over minimum wage ($4.26) made it work.

Compared to the kids in Coney Island, our advantages were huge. From better-quality teachers and (as crappy as Kentridge was) facilities to community characteristics like better libraries* to read and study at.

Our background spotted us enough points that we were guaranteed to get in somewhere, which in turn meant x% graduated and then dominated the job marketplace.

But back to the topic at hand: the prejudice in favor of college degrees in an environment where college admission is hugely tilted towards affluence, and where a college degree means better job prospects and more money, is effective and sustainable discrimination against those who start out with less. This is exacerbated when the state of public education ensures that the different people start out on massively unequal footing.

What’s worse, I think, is that even if it’s unintentional and a recruiter’s means to cut down the available applicant pool to something more managable, it’s clear that not only are they not even looking at qualified resumes without a degree — they’re not looking at ones that have a degree if they can’t easily sort on that. I could have taken an entirely different path and worked my way out of a call center, with the same experience and the same abilities, and no one would be interested. But because I have a four-year degree from the University of Washington, where I learned that I can’t handle Southern Comfort, I am.

I don’t argue that everyone should enjoy equal results, and I don’t have any good solutions on how to solve it. If you’d told me I couldn’t go to the UW because someone from a horrible school system had put up substantially worse grades and SAT scores and bumped me out, I’d like to think I’d have understood, but I don’t really know.

If nothing else, the value the marketplace puts on college degrees makes it clear that barring widespread societal change, equality in early education — equality of opportunity — would make a huge difference in getting a more diverse group into colleges, and from there, into the workplace, which would in turn help end this discriminatory cycle.

* which are totally being screwed up, but that’s another post.

One thought on “Institutional ism

  1. Anonymous

    That would be great, but you’ll never get the rich districts to equalize the funding (cross-subsidize) the poorer districts.

    Even when they’re one town over, as if education problems there don’t spill over.

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