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Campus Book Discussion (2018): Hillbilly Elegy

Chapter 5

In this chapter,  Vance talks about his continued family struggles and how they impacted his performance and attitude towards school. Growing up, Vance loved learning and school,  but conflicts at home caused him to eventually "hate" it.  His struggles began when his biological father, Don Bowman,  gives him up for adoption when he is six to his stepfather, Bob Hamel.  Despite his mother’s drug addiction, she remained committed to education.  She returned to a local community college and obtained her associate’s in nursing.  Like her other relationships, this one is also short-lived.  Even though Bev (Vance's mom) and Bob were able to live comfortably, the Hillbilly lifestyle Bev continues to perpetuate results in violence and money mismanagement. Conflict in the home not only affects Vance’s academic performance but his health, as he begins to overeat to deal with the stress.  Later in the chapter, Vance’s mom tries to kill herself by ramming her car into a telephone pole after a huge fight with Bob. Later, she tries the same stunt again with Vance, then only eleven, in the car with her.  By hiring a high-powered lawyer, Vance’s grandparents are able to save their daughter from jail time and Vance is able to get a reprieve from his mom by spending time with his Uncle Jimmy from California who sends for him.  Despite his hardships, Vance has family members such as Mamaw whose desire was for her kids to  "obtain white-collar work, and marry well-groomed middle-class folks . . . ."(62).  Mamaw, his sister Lindsay, and his uncle Jimmy help to insulate him from the blows of his mother's repeated bad decisions.  It is not money, but his mother's impoverished mindset that gravely affect him. 

Education and Poverty

Five stereotypes about poor families and education

Myth 3: All poor people do drugs. To the contrary, the author claims that a person’s tendency to do drugs increases with his or her wealth. The exception here is young people who tend to do drugs equally, despite economic status. The author emphatically states that drugs is not the cause of poverty among poor people.
Myth 4: Poor people do not speak well. Disparities in reading scores between the rich and poor could be explained by lack of access to daycare facilities that teach effective reading skills. The author also points out that attaching value to one type of speech over another reflects a language bias.
Myth 5: Poor people are neglectful, thus making them poor parents.To the contrary, poor parents often prioritize their children’s needs over their own.
Gorski argues that it is important to understand stereotypes in academic settings because it can impact how students are treated and students could succumb to stereotype threat, under-performing because of fear of the stereotype.
This article shows the link between the quality of education one receives and the quality of neighborhood one lives in. Yoshinaga and Kamenetz write, “It's well known in the real estate industry that highly rated schools translate into higher housing values.” This practice often leads to discrimination since those with higher incomes can choose to buy homes in areas that have higher test scores and higher graduation rates, which usually translates into wealthier, white parents. The writers go on to explain, that school budgets are based, in part on property taxes. Those who live in neighborhoods with higher school property taxes are able to provide students with the resources they need, while those in poorer areas suffer because of lack of resources to do the same. Hence, those who live in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to receive the same value in education. “In most places around the country, school budgets are partly linked to local property taxes. Highly rated schools beget higher housing values, which in turn beget more richly resourced schools.” Although the 1968 Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlaws steering racial groups into certain neighborhoods, racial steering is maintained by steering them differently based on the race of the couple looking for homes. Rather than focusing on race, realtors would highlight information regarding schools’ test scores and school quality. White prospects would be told to avoid a certain area because of the school districts, while minorities would be steered towards them.
Consumers can now do real estate shopping online where they can see for themselves how certain schools are rated and thus make the decision on their own whether or not to move to a certain neighborhood. The authors identify this as a form of redlining, a ‘a legalized and explicit practice of discrimination supported by the Federal Housing Administration between 1934 and 1968.” The authors make the case that when consumers are provided information online and make their own decisions, it is more difficult to prove that redlining—intentionally steering customers into certain areas—is less clear.
1934–1968: FHA Mortgage Insurance Requirements Utilize Redlining
Race and ethnicity are used to determine mortgage eligibility in communities such as Roxbury, Dorchester and Hyde Park, thus perpetuating housing segregation.

Food for Thought

Problems at home made school challenging for Vance.  What other factors may make receiving an education hard?

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