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Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education

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We often hear about the growing divide between rich and poor in America. This compelling exposé, backed by up-to-date research, locates the source of this trend where we might least expect to find it—in our schools. Written for a wide audience, Tearing Down the Gates is a powerful indictment of American education that shows how schools, colleges, and universities exacerbat We often hear about the growing divide between rich and poor in America. This compelling exposé, backed by up-to-date research, locates the source of this trend where we might least expect to find it—in our schools. Written for a wide audience, Tearing Down the Gates is a powerful indictment of American education that shows how schools, colleges, and universities exacerbate inequality by providing ample opportunities for advantaged students while shutting the gates on the poor—and even the middle class. Peter Sacks tells the stories of young people and families as they struggle to negotiate the educational system. He introduces students like Ashlea, who grew up in a trailer park and who would like to attend college, though she faces constant obstacles that many of her more privileged classmates can't imagine. Woven throughout with voices of Americans both rich and poor, Tearing Down the Gates describes a disturbing situation that has the potential to undermine the American dream, not just for some, but for all of us. At the heart of this book is a question of justice, and Sacks demands that we take a hard look at what equal opportunity really means in the United States today.


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We often hear about the growing divide between rich and poor in America. This compelling exposé, backed by up-to-date research, locates the source of this trend where we might least expect to find it—in our schools. Written for a wide audience, Tearing Down the Gates is a powerful indictment of American education that shows how schools, colleges, and universities exacerbat We often hear about the growing divide between rich and poor in America. This compelling exposé, backed by up-to-date research, locates the source of this trend where we might least expect to find it—in our schools. Written for a wide audience, Tearing Down the Gates is a powerful indictment of American education that shows how schools, colleges, and universities exacerbate inequality by providing ample opportunities for advantaged students while shutting the gates on the poor—and even the middle class. Peter Sacks tells the stories of young people and families as they struggle to negotiate the educational system. He introduces students like Ashlea, who grew up in a trailer park and who would like to attend college, though she faces constant obstacles that many of her more privileged classmates can't imagine. Woven throughout with voices of Americans both rich and poor, Tearing Down the Gates describes a disturbing situation that has the potential to undermine the American dream, not just for some, but for all of us. At the heart of this book is a question of justice, and Sacks demands that we take a hard look at what equal opportunity really means in the United States today.

30 review for Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stidmama

    [My first attempt at a book review in some time... it is subject to revision!] This was rather more academic than I am used to... and at times more political in tone than I care for, but very good reading nonetheless. It is difficult, after all, to look at this as anything but a political and moral crisis. The data so clearly show how "the system" works to promote the higher education of people who are already in the "have" category while denying it to people in the "have not" classes. Though I e [My first attempt at a book review in some time... it is subject to revision!] This was rather more academic than I am used to... and at times more political in tone than I care for, but very good reading nonetheless. It is difficult, after all, to look at this as anything but a political and moral crisis. The data so clearly show how "the system" works to promote the higher education of people who are already in the "have" category while denying it to people in the "have not" classes. Though I easily fell (and still fall in many ways) into the "haves" I feel a sense of unease as I ponder whether my life choices (staying home rather than working to earn lots of status and money) will negatively impact my children's chances at being accepted to schools that teach the types of things they are interested in. The data also point toward a collapse of the entire system if trends continue -- both the educational and the economic. If the lessons of pre-revolutionary (and post!) France and Russia are not heeded, North America (specifically the United States) could end up with similarly disproportionate distribution of wealth... and the associated downfall. If you are currently a student or parent, and hope to go to college someday, start thinking NOW about the choices you are making. If you have your heart set on a particular school after high school, find out what courses they require for admission, find out what kinds of courses people who are being admitted have taken! What sort of tests does the college ask you to pass for entrance? Gather the paperwork a year early and start learning what the items on the forms mean (what sort of financial records will you need if you want help paying for school?). If you have not been to college, talk with the high school counselors and ask for help negotiating the maze of decisions and paperwork. People are there to help, but YOU need to make the first move. Reach out, ask for help. Stay involved. Though we may not like the game they are playing, if we want to get the reward, we need to follow their rules. On the other hand, I think it is simplistic and unrealistic to focus so much on four-year colleges as the only path to educational and career satisfaction. The truth is that many people are not well suited for the types of occupations that a four-year college prepares one for, and some people are not ready for the more impersonal ocean of the large college or university. To assume that all people with working-class jobs are there by default and are unhappy is as classist as the system the author rails against! To assume that all people who are in blue-collar jobs are not intellectual or are struggling is likewise elitist. A truly balanced educational and social system would stop valuing some types of jobs more than others (Is a doctor more worthy than a teacher? More worthy than a carpenter? When your car needs repairing, is the accountant or the mechanic more valuable?). A truly balanced system would identify the areas that people excel in academically, match those abilities with people's interests, and seek to provide opportunities to explore the jobs that fit both! If you are a taxpayer, be cautious what sort of bill you are handed. Do the schools, from elementary to post-graduate, provide you -- and all workers and taxpayers -- with the skills that are necessary for a vibrant, healthy economy? Are the teachers provided with the tools (and the flexibility ) they need to meet students where they are and bring them toward the goals? Are the schools providing enough to keep children from becoming adults who enter the prison or welfare systems? I recommend that people take a look at what the author has to say, and then look at other sources. And then, ACT. Write letters, attend school board meetings, VOTE.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Sacks here looks at class tracking in the American education system, but mainly focuses on the way this works in higher education. He points to the evidence that the SAT and similar tests track mainly the class (and to some extent) race of the kid's family. Children of highly educated parents, parents who work professional and managerial jobs that through which they learn and use expertise and complex concepts daily, and children of wealthy parents, who can provide them special tutors, rich lear Sacks here looks at class tracking in the American education system, but mainly focuses on the way this works in higher education. He points to the evidence that the SAT and similar tests track mainly the class (and to some extent) race of the kid's family. Children of highly educated parents, parents who work professional and managerial jobs that through which they learn and use expertise and complex concepts daily, and children of wealthy parents, who can provide them special tutors, rich learning environments in schools in well to do neighborhods, already start kindergarten with a higher level of development of their capacities and these advantages grow throughout their time in school. Sacks also looks at the various barriers that stand in the way of students from low income backgrounds being able to complete college. Now, all of this is important data to undermine the lie of American capitalism as a "meritocracy." The idea of "merit" is of something earned, somehow. But rewarding people with high test scores, which reflects their class advantages, rewards them for the genetic luck of being born to wealthy and highly educated parents. The only reason i give this 4 stars is that Sacks doesn't challenge the whole idea that a hierarchical society with "winners" and "losers" is somehow legitimate.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I thought this book might be interesting. It discusses how education, especially college education, keeps lower-class children from reaching their potential. But this book is very academic and is full of statistics that one does not remember after reading/hearing it. (I listened to the audio version.) There were a couple of examples/studies of actual people that were interesting. Ashley's story was told in the first chapter of the book and I figured there would be a wrap-up at the end of the book I thought this book might be interesting. It discusses how education, especially college education, keeps lower-class children from reaching their potential. But this book is very academic and is full of statistics that one does not remember after reading/hearing it. (I listened to the audio version.) There were a couple of examples/studies of actual people that were interesting. Ashley's story was told in the first chapter of the book and I figured there would be a wrap-up at the end of the book; that was the only reason I continued to listen to the entire book. By the time I finished the book, there had not been any wrap-up to Ashley's story and I felt cheated. The book was way too long and seemed to repeat itself, but just used different words to do so. Also, the audiobook was read by the author and I found him an extremely boring and dry narrator. 1 star.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I am reminded to post about this book after reading _Outliers_ by Malcolm Gladwell today. Outlier's Chapters 4 & 9 especially deal with the similar subject of the gates to success. Here's part of what I wrote about Sacks' book on my blog runspotrun.com: In his book Tearing down the gates: Confronting the class divide in American education, Peter Sacks thoroughly documents how much more difficult it is for low-income students to get the best out of school and from there get to the best colleges. H I am reminded to post about this book after reading _Outliers_ by Malcolm Gladwell today. Outlier's Chapters 4 & 9 especially deal with the similar subject of the gates to success. Here's part of what I wrote about Sacks' book on my blog runspotrun.com: In his book Tearing down the gates: Confronting the class divide in American education, Peter Sacks thoroughly documents how much more difficult it is for low-income students to get the best out of school and from there get to the best colleges. He offers some ideas for helping the system change. Probably to win over those who expect it, Sacks does update the age-old international and economic competition argument as an incentive to change, but the reader senses that down-deep he believes the incentive is a simpler, and dare I say moral, one: we are all better off when we are each well-enough off.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    The scope of this book is pretty breathtaking - it starts with personal stories of young, low-income students moving through the college admission process, widens to school-specific stories on class and eventually moves to nothing short of a national conversation on whether our public and private educational systems are serving students from all class backgrounds (the answer is a resounding no). I found this book fascinating as an admission officer, but would recommend it to anyone who has an in The scope of this book is pretty breathtaking - it starts with personal stories of young, low-income students moving through the college admission process, widens to school-specific stories on class and eventually moves to nothing short of a national conversation on whether our public and private educational systems are serving students from all class backgrounds (the answer is a resounding no). I found this book fascinating as an admission officer, but would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in education policy in general. We have a lot of work to do.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Andrews

    This book is about our education system and more. It's about what kind of society American is becoming, with its education system as the book's main focus. The author tells great stories about real people and shows why we are becoming a nation of haves and have nots, based on somebody's opportunity to get a good education. Highly recommended!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gary Bodine

    An examination of the socioeconomic class divide existing in the US with regards to educational opportunities at all levels of education.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Renee Ortenzio

    Heavy on the numbers, but very eye opening. We have a problem in this country with no fix in sight.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stella

    Assigned for my American College Student class. Somewhat interesting, somewhat repetitive. Looks at class and race inequities in college access.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Will

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ange

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shelly Melchior

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Linda Nicholas

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

  21. 5 out of 5

    Flyin' Wretch

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Magnes

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    A brutal reality to our screwed up school system and society!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Hartman

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aesha

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lena Quintana

  29. 4 out of 5

    Polly Trout

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Wu

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