Poverty in America
The Tale of Two Americas
The United States: Land of Opportunity, where anyone can achieve The American Dream...right?
Then why does a huge percentage of the population remain stuck in poverty? This short course explores the causes and drivers of poverty, inequality, and social mobility in modern America, and how we can best kick 'em to the curb.
With the help of Common Core-aligned activities, projects, and lessons, you'll be able to
- explain the origins of the American Dream, poverty, and class.
- describe inequality, structures of violence, and the underdog story.
- identify the systemic (political, educational, cultural) challenges to achieving the American Dream in the U.S.
- understand theories of conflict that help explain poverty and inequality.
- apply conflict resolution theories and practices to real life situations.
- compare and contrast Darwin, Marx, and Freud, and how their theories apply to Barbara Ehrenreich’s modern Nickel and Dimed America.
- dissect the American Dream and reassemble it to see how it applies to us today.
Unit 1. A Tale of Two Americas
This short course digs into the tough topic of poverty and the American Dream. With the help of the book Nickel and Dimed, we'll discover what poverty looks like in America today, how the cycle of poverty gets started, and what we can do about it.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 5: The Tale of Two Americas: Part I
"You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them."
- Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
Just like snowflakes, all of our experiences are different. We all see and experience the world differently. And we're not just talking about how some people like Burger King and others like McDonalds. We're talking how some people grow up in gated communities where the biggest issues are what college to go to while others grow up in communities full of gun violence where they feel lucky if they make it to their 18th birthdays without getting arrested or shot. You'd better believe that these different experiences make for some different perceptions of the world.
Both Simon and Ehrenreich spoke about two very different realities in the United States. For many, it's wealth and livin' la vida loca. For others, it's a hard knock life. In any case, both of these realities coexist in the U.S. under the same systems.
Consider Baltimore, home of "crab cakes and (Raven's) football." In this city, cozy suburbia is just a few miles down the road from the projects. On one street you have brick houses with backyards and two car garages; two miles down the street you have brick houses with broken windows and no electricity.
The people that live in that part of Baltimore are raising their kids, going to school, buying groceries in a city with a seriously high crime rate.
In this lesson, we'll journey to Chicago, another city that experiences shockingly high crime and violence. We'll listen to an episode of This American Life and then walk around in someone else's shoes until our feet hurt.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.5a: Harper High School, Part I
In this lesson, we're going to search for the American Dream in Chicago.
Head on over to This American Life where you'll find "Harper High School, Part One."
Click "Launch Player" to play the audio recording (or check out the transcript if you're more of a visual person). Listen to the whole thing.
One of the central themes of This American Life's episode was dialogue, or talking through those things that challenge, confuse, or scare us. And life can get scary sometimes, especially if you're trying to go it alone. Bill Withers said it pretty well: "We all need somebody to lean on." We had to look him up, too. No sweat.
Dialogue can help us piece together the puzzle or make sense of our reality. Think back to how it was important for Devante to share his emotions, experiences, and struggles. Without dialogue, we're on our own doing our best to survive.
In the name of that collaboration, let's whip up some of our own ideas. We'd like to discuss violence, gangs, and safety.
First up, think about the following questions and put together a 200-250 word response:
- Why do you think Harper's staff puts so much effort into protecting "the students' normal high school experience"?
- How might your learning and "experience" be impacted if you felt unsafe in the classroom and on your walk home?
- How does poverty influence levels of crime and violence? How might this be related to the American Dream?
Head on over to the discussion board and post your response. Then read some of your peers' responses and reply to at least 3 of them. Try to keep the discussion going!