Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Death of the American Dream: Where Do We Go From Here?

By Nancy Campos



The United States has been built on the idea of the American dream: everyone has the opportunity to succeed as long as they work hard enough. This is the American ideology that we, Americans, have passed on from generation to generation.
We hear this rhetoric all the time. American students are taught this in school by their teachers who throw out examples of people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, have worked really hard to overcome all obstacles, and now are living “the dream.” We perpetuate the image of the U.S. as a truly meritocratic society, where people are judged on an individual basis and solely on their abilities. In essence, the American dream can be summed up as an ideology that, unlike others, allows for social mobility with relative ease for all hard workers. But how realistic is this dream?

Education is widely regarded as the main method for attaining upward social mobility. The type of schooling a person receives can place them on a specific path that will have certain outcomes. One can take an educated guess about whether a student will graduate from high school, apply to college, and graduate with a 2 or 4 year degree, and these days, even whether the student will go on to graduate school, all based on what primary and secondary school they attend. Stratification occurs at every level, in some way, shape, or form. Suburban, rural, and inner city are not just terms to describe where schools are located, but also connote rates of success for students who attend these schools based on the different types of instruction and environments of each particular type of school, as well as, the general demographic that can probably be found at each. The education system is completely rigged, as it is controlled by the social systems that help determine a person’s place in American society. What does this mean for those trying to achieve the American dream? Who truly benefits from this system?

This ideology that we refer to as the American dream, began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence which states that all men are created equal. One need only look at American history with a critical lens to see the many examples that scream that we are indeed not a country that truly embraces new people, new ideas, or anything that makes us question who we are as a country. We have continuously been sold on this foundational ideology that makes up the United States, and it is often hard to believe or see otherwise, without being called un-American, at the least. Those who prefer to continue to preserve the so-called American dream consider those of us who understand that we live in a society that governs our every move by the continual maintenance of social systems fatalistic pessimists. It is not hard to understand this need for preservation because what becomes of the United States when it is stripped of its foundation and main identity? Maybe this country is still too young to reinvent itself, or at least, too young to face the reality that other countries have already faced: that true meritocracy is hard to achieve. So how do we keep this dream alive today?

I don’t think we can. We have reached a point in this country where it is becoming clearer that there are other forces that help determine who receives opportunities for success and who does not. We are faced with puzzling conundrums that directly go against our beloved dream; conundrums such as the failure of the DREAM Act, aptly named because it would actually allow those who have come to this country, have worked hard, proven their abilities by graduating high school and either going to college or joining the military, to be granted entrance into American society and access to the upward mobility that the American dream promises. The passage of the DREAM Act would be a perfect way to keep the dream alive because it stands for everything that the U.S. is supposed to stand for and could be used as an argument against us fatalistic pessimists; however, it continues to fail, and even worse, it is now being distorted by politicians with good intentions (and we all know how the road to hell was paved). Even if this Act eventually succeeds, there are many more examples of how we are failing as a country to provide opportunities for all. Just take an in-depth look at the education system from any angle, and it will be easy to see what I am talking about, or you can always listen to George Carlin discuss education and the American dream:


"It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." - George Carlin

Of course, there are always the exceptions to every rule. I, as a Latina, born in El Salvador and raised by immigrant parents who came to the United States seeking a better life, am considered an exception, but I understand why and how I was able to succeed. I have worked very hard to get to where I am today, and I am very smart, at least smart enough to have received a bachelor’s, master’s, and become a doctoral student. But there is more to it than that. To cut a long story short, I believe it was a mixture of two main sources: a good education and a wonderfully supportive family that have led me to where I am today. I am not trying to take away anything from myself as an individual with certain abilities, but I feel that to truly be honest with myself, it is necessary to consider the path that I have taken and how I have arrived where I am today. Without the support of my family, and the guidance from teachers, guidance counselors, advisors, and mentors, I would not be here, critiquing the very system that has helped me succeed. There are plenty of students, I believe, who are as smart and able to navigate the education system as well as I did, but who unfortunately, are not given the same opportunities I received. In my own research, I ask this question often and in different ways: how is it that some students from underrepresented and underachieving populations are able to gain access toward upward social mobility through the education system and some are not? The answer always lies in the opportunities that students are given at some point during their educational careers, yet the beliefs that they are somehow better than, smarter than, worked harder than, deserved it more than, etc. are all present and deeply embedded in the students' own identities. This does not mean that meritocracy and the American dream exist; it merely points to the fact that we still believe that they do.

So what can we do now? For starters, take a good look around this country and pay attention to who are offered opportunities for success and in what ways. Also, be honest about your own experiences, your own obstacles, or lack thereof, and what led you to where you are today. Sure, you are a smart, hard-working individual, but that only takes you so far when you are faced with real obstacles that have true potential to derail you. It is up to us, those who have made it and have been given the power to spread knowledge, to bury the American dream for good because the dangers of attempting to keep the dream alive will cost us greatly in the long run, as it is doing so now. It is time to create a new dream, one that focuses on breaking apart the social systems that bind us and faces reality head on. That is the only way the U.S. will be better equipped to meet the needs of all those residing here.

15 comments:

Ryan Fleming said...

Amazing debut. Your linkage between the quintessential "American dream" and concrete proposals like the DREAM Act is especially powerful. Welcome to RSS.

Anonymous said...

It is possible for our nation to adopt a new collective dream without ignoring the needs of the disenfranchised?

Anonymous said...

-Don't worry everyone. I'll handle this. (That Fleming Kid must work for the Brits)
You did a great job pointing out the size of a growing divide that did not exist when I was an American teenager, and an even better job pointing out the many instances in which an individual who for whatever reason may have been denied certain opportunities, can still have the necessary skill, talent, ability, or knowledge to wipe the floor with individuals with graduate degrees.
-But that's really all you got right.
Let’s start here:
1. It is absolutely not up to "US, those who have made it and have been given the power to spread knowledge, to bury the American dream."
Here's why:
You haven't made it, and you haven’t been given any real power.
You happen to be part of a global mafia that eats whatever it touches and doesn't care where it shits.
The only "knowledge" you have to spread is the "knowledge" they assign you...and it may not even be "knowledge" it may be something you have no choice but to believe...regardless of whether or not you're right.
2. You're not right.
What you're saying is absolutely fascist and borderline evil.
By saying its up to "us"...you're saying that only members of your fascist global mafia count as individuals
-And by creating division, deciding that the American dream is up to one group while others are excluded is WRONG!!!!!!
WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS PLAIN WRONG.
3. I understand that America's immigrant population is growing. I understand that the face of our nation is changing. I understand that people whose parents didn't suffer through segregation, the civil rights movement, or bricks being hurled through the front windows of their inter-racial households will have all sorts of opportunities that I never received...and since I'm over 30...I never will.
-And that's okay too....but the idea is for all of us to join together...not for one group or one social class to invade, grow, and decide that America should bury its dream.
AMERICANS ARE PROUD OF THIER CULTURE.
AMERICANS ARE PROUD OF THIER HISTORY.
AMERICANS ARE PROUD OF THIER IDENTITY.
THAT DREAM IS NOT FOR YOU TO KILL.
THAT DREAM IS FOR ALL OF US.
What IS up to us is how real that dream is.
How much faith do we have in ourselves as individuals?
How good ARE we?
How good am I?
I can do anything.
That belief is an important part of the American Identity.
That belief is an important part of MY identity.
I will not let you kill it.
The language you use is offensive to me.
Your stance is offensive to me.
My talents have been called extraordinary, special, etc.
The American dream is a part of my soul....
My heart breaks every morning.
Everything I love is gone.
However…I’ve completed a novel that’s superior to anything you or anyone in your graduating class could ever come up with.
I know someone with a graduate degree who’s a caterer…because she ISN’T gifted.

What’s up to YOU is making sure that an individual of remarkable skill, talent, or even genius receives the respect that they deserve regardless of whether or not they are graduates of an Academic institution.

Unless you can write a better book, you CAN’T bury me.

Now do you understand?

The American dream is America itself.

The American dream and the American people are one and the same.

All that existed before you arrived was created by that dream.

All that you currently have…every advantage , exists because of that dream.

An American is someone who understands this.

Trust me on this one.

Our nation didn’t change because we were conquered, bested, or even outsmarted.

Overwhelming numbers came and reproduced.

That’s it.

We are the generous and idealistic nation THAT WELCOMED YOU, and ALLOWED YOU TO SHARE IN THIS DREAM.

You sound like a Star Trek villain.

The American people will not allow you to bury them.

Phazers on stun.

Kirk Out.

Nancy Campos said...

I think you missed the point of this article. If you can say that you know "that people whose parents didn't suffer through segregation, the civil rights movement, or bricks being hurled through the front windows of their inter-racial households will have all sorts of opportunities that I never received", then how can you go on in great length and with such passion about the American dream in this way. What you said right there is actually exactly what the article is about. It proves that the dream is not real. Sure it gives people hope, but what happens when those same people who are "extraordinary and special" are not given the same opportunities? We live in a world where giving people respect, regardless of whether they have a degree or not, is not enough. We live in an American society where even having a degree doesn't always grant you the same respect; just ask any member of an oppressed group with a degree.

We, Americans, must come to terms with reality, and admit that our nation is not "generous" and being "idealistic" isn't always a good thing. Fairytales are idealistic too, and who believes in those anymore? You are right to say that I haven't made it and haven't been given real power, to some extent. The point of the article was to show that other people run this country, those who keep all the opportunities for themselves, the ones who rig the education system in such a way that causes huge disproportions in our population regarding who gets educated and who gets left behind. This article is for them too to read and reflect upon their own experiences and stop blaming the oppressed for failure to succeed, and for all of us (that includes you) to realize we do have the power to say this is not right and this needs to change. There is nothing worse than going through life without critiquing what you've always been taught, except maybe realizing something is off and passively allowing it to continue.

Nancy Campos said...

I think first we have to come to a collective realization that as great as we believe our nation to be, it needs improvements. Then we can start to think about what this new collective dream will be and how to go about achieving it. I think the biggest problem is that this American dream is actually very antiquated. It may have worked in the past, but even for those who it worked for back then, it no longer works for now. We need an update to reflect the changes we are facing, especially with this new "internationalization" and "globalization" that requires us to not only compete against each other, but against other countries that are ahead of us in several respects.

Nancy Campos said...

Oh wow, thanks for that welcome Ryan! Yeah, I find it very interesting how so many are so quick to dismiss the DREAM Act, and other proposals like it, when it is based on what the US was founded on and so many still believe exists. I find it especially interesting how politicians are trying to change the proposal to prove that more opportunities will go to true Americans and not these "illegals" taking everything away from them, but there is little talk about how to change things so that the true Americans in the bottom ranks receive more and similar opportunities to the ones on top. I could go on forever, but I'll stop there. Thanks again for the comment!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see Captain Kirk's superior novel. It's probably about trekkies.

I'm more of a Star Wars fan, so highly doubt his anonymous talents...

Anyone with real credibility would post their name and credentials before attacking someone's first blog post. Your writing may be superior (in your opinion), but your reading skills need work.

Nancy, thank you for opening up this conversation. May the 4th be with you.

Anonymous said...

(Character space is limited…so I’ll need multiple parts. I say we keep going.)

PART 1:

I can go on with such passion about the dream because I live to defend it.

The opportunities that YOU'VE been given are proof that the dream is real. The dream is the part of America that belongs to the people and not the government. I'm talking about Rock-N-roll among other things. I'm including the history as well as the mythology. I'm talking about Mark twain, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce....American history is part of what shaped the world. It's not just a place.....Americans are people.
I actually like you a little so pay attention:

I know exactly what happens when people who are extraordinary and special are not given those opportunities. I even understand details about how and why those opportunities are denied that your "education" will prevent you from ever recognizing as information. We live in a complicated world. The generosity and idealism I refer to is alive inside that dream. It's the reason I exist.

Everything redeeming and worthwhile about our national character is alive inside that dream.

The dream IS real...and being part of that dream is the only thing that's ever made ANYONE an American.

I really shouldn't do this...but here is an excerpt from my novel:

Blame it on the eighties.
Close your eyes and talk to Reagan.
When you recognize the world...you'll know you've made it.
Welcome home.
The moving roads and living worlds are more amazing than the movies.
All the heroes have been buried and the winners are in prison.
You're the one she loves, and not because your hair looks just like Elvis, or the zillion dollars nestled on a California beach.
It's all because she's just like you.
She loves the blue skies and the breezes.
You're together in convertibles and 50's style diners, cruising sidewalks next to green grass over-crowded by the trees, and in the morning you eat wind and great adventures on the highway...
-till at last you sink into your bed and dream about the mermaids.
Don't you love it?
Can't you taste it?
I can't help you.
Please forgive me.
You can blame it on the eighties.
Close your eyes and talk to Reagan.
Tell the other weary seekers that the Black Abyss won't save them.
(continued below?)

Anonymous said...

PART 2:

-So as you can see your perspective ISN'T new to me. I'VE fought this battle. I had to go out and find it for myself.
The dream is real because I'm alive.
By saying that the dream isn't real...YOU ARE SAYING THAT I MUST DIE.
Sometimes that dream is ALL that’s left.
-AND IT'S ALWAYS BEEN ENOUGH.
No one believes in fairy tales...but someone's got to write them.
They are not meant to be believed...they are meant to be loved.
So am I...and IDEALISM IS THE REASON YOU'RE HERE!! IT'S THE RESON HATRED AND BIGOTRY DIDN'T PREVENT YOU FROM COMING TO A COUNTRY AND HAVING MORE OPPURTUNITIES THAN BILLIONS OF PEOPLE WHO STRUGGLED DECADES BEFORE YOU WERE BORN......THAT'S THE GENEROSITY I'M TALKING ABOUT.
It's there for you...It's got to be there for me.
That dream inspired everything. IT’S WHY WOMEN ARE ALLOWED TO VOTE. CHALLENGING ONE'S SELF TO OVERCOME IMPOSSIBLE ODDS DID NOT COME FROM HOLLYWOOD CULTURE.
THE PEOPLE WHO BUILT THIS COUNTRY HAD TO BELEIVE IT....AND IT WORKED.
IT WASN'T A FAIRY TALE.
The dream IS real...just as real as the automobile!!! Just as real as the Airplane! Just as real as Citizen Cane.
Have you ever heard of JFK?
Why was he killed?
Do you know?
I do.
Was that really the end?
Is that why you think I'm wrong?
Not until they shoot me too...but they won't.
They'll force me to kill myself...
If in the end they can't....and I survive..it will be because they didn't understand that I was an American...or what an American is.
That dream is where you'll never find it.
I'll see to that.
One day you'll understand...
In the meantime....find anyone who can step to me.
I say the dream is alive and I'm here to defend it.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but no one was attacked.

I responded honestly to what I read, and the young lady and I are having a civilized conversation about an important disagreement.

I beleive this is what internet forums are for.

I used a cultural refference in this case because it was appropriate to do so.

She said that her and other priveledged individuals should bury the dream that individuals in my situation depend on.

She has an entire establishment on her side...I have only my own imagination....and "Anonymous" talent....which is blatantly obvious to everyone but you.

I don't reveal myself because its not up to me to do so in this case...but you should know that the QUERY for my novel is available for the public to scrutinize.

I've been a writer since I was a child.

There is no need for me to prove anything to you...except that my reading skills are superior to your own...because I actually understood the article I read. ("I" should be in italics)

If people like ME don't respond...it's not really a conversation at all.

As far as Star Wars Vs Star Trek, GIJOE Ninja Tattoos, and the savage sword of Conan .....

I'm busy.

Stop bothering me.

Anonymous said...

A way I understand it is that you're campaigning for the elimination of the terminology...for so long as we refer to the it as the "american dream" ...do we see it as something unattainable? Something just barely out of reach? It appears to me that the American dream in the sense that Cpt. Kirk is putting is more of a work ethic/action that built the country and accomplished things over great odds. But....what happened to the "native american dream" ? Sacrificed for the "quaker Dream"? You can call something whatever you want but the reality of be successful, you have to work hard, study, or get extremely lucky. But the fact that there are so many venues into making this happen, is that not the part of the "American dream" that got realized? In some sense, the cornerstone of the "american dream" appears to have been built on the violation of the rights of others.

Also, I don't necessarily agree about the control of the "dream"... technology and social networking has helped give a voice and more mobility to lower classes and has helped them organize and let themselves be heard. I think that as technology is increasingly more accessible to lower and middle classes, the "controlling class" will have a harder time rectifying there decisions. Look at Bank of America's fee reversal over the summer as a response to protesting/negative coverage...

Also, one man's definition of what an American is does not define the rest of us. Anonymous 1 up there likes to hear himself talk.

Anonymous said...

Well yeah....EVERYONE likes hearing me talk when they read this kind of boring non sense.

"A way I understand it is that-" You were fired right there as far as I'm concerned.

It looks like you've got your fingers crossed that you actually understand what SHE'S trying to say, before going on to prove that you don't really understand ANY of it...then you make things even worse by trying to get ME involved...no...you're wrong.

What I'm describing may include a work ethic...but my favorite American's hate work. I also mentioned history and mythology.

These things have nothing to with habitat for humanity.

What I'm describing is passion that may or may not include a work-ethic, and that's one of a million things you didn't get.

I talked an awful lot of smack and begged her to find anyone who could step to me.

This is your oppurtunity to settle my hash but good.

Are you going to?

Or did you plan to just sit there and bitch?

Nancy Campos said...

More than campaigning for the elimination of the terminology, which is very problematic as you point out for several reasons, the goal is to get more people who are "privileged" to realize their privilege. Those who have been oppressed in any way, I think, understand that this "American dream" that is talked about so much is a myth for many, and as time is going by, it is much less attainable for those who have yet to attain it. I think that continuing to talk about the American dream, as it stands now, is very harmful. I think that we internalize this belief that the only reason we've made it is because we are more hard working and better than those who haven't, but my question is, are we really? And what do we do now that we have been deemed "better than" those who have been left behind? Just about everyday I realize it could've been me on the other end, struggling with a system that works against people like me.

I agree that there are definitely more avenues for people to come together, organize and be heard, but that isn't enough. People are being pinned against each other. The example of the DREAM Act shows how separated we are, when isn't that the true meaning of the American dream? I think it's great to see people starting to mobilize. I think it shouldn't just be up to the oppressed to do so though. We all need to realize the roles we play and do something about the outcomes.

THE WINNER said...

I just busted the HELL out of some lame-wad TROLL who tried to step to me on "The Rogue Scholar Society" blog site back in 2012.

I was heartbroken to the point of death, and frustrated out of my mind by the love of my life, who was definately spying on me for one of the many agencies I contacted when I realized that I was being targeted by Scientology.

(*If you're rolling your eyes because that sounds crazy- Fuck you. MY LIFE IS REAL)

Allison Dower became a "Blogger" immediately after she blocked me.

I have never had an oppurtunity to come to grips with who this person is or what they actually did to me...or why. But I love Allison.

I wanted her to understand that I left school because I WAS AN INTELLECTUAL, and demonstrate to her that I could exist in this kind of community. She didn't seem to think I was an idiot when I trained her to get people's credit cards...anyway...

I came across this posting by Nancy Campos, of the Rogue Scholar Society about the "Death of the American dream." etc.

I found it distressing that someone so young, with no cultural American background at all, and a limited concept of the nation and the dream born out of the last decade would declare its death.

I chose to participate.

I didn't want to upset Allison, so I chose to be "anonymous.:"

I beat the fuck out of this troll.

I think that as technology is increasingly more accessible to lower and middle classes, the "controlling class" will have a harder time rectifying there decisions. Look at Bank of America's fee reversal over the summer as a response to protesting/negative coverage...

Also, one man's definition of what an American is does not define the rest of us. Anonymous 1 up there likes to hear himself talk.

ME:

Anonymous said...
Well yeah....EVERYONE likes hearing me talk when they read this kind of boring non sense.

"A way I understand it is that-" You were fired right there as far as I'm concerned.

It looks like you've got your fingers crossed that you actually understand what SHE'S trying to say, before going on to prove that you don't really understand ANY of it...then you make things even worse by trying to get ME involved...no...you're wrong.

What I'm describing may include a work ethic...but my favorite American's hate work. I also mentioned history and mythology.

These things have nothing to with habitat for humanity.

What I'm describing is passion that may or may not include a work-ethic, and that's one of a million things you didn't get.

I talked an awful lot of smack and begged her to find anyone who could step to me.

This is your oppurtunity to settle my hash but good.

Are you going to?

Or did you plan to just sit there and bitch?

-end-

This is where the troll ran away. I've been wondering for years who he was because he got so totally owned...and ran away without identifying himself.

The Troll is this man: Miguel Zavala. Fuck you...moron.
https://www.facebook.com/miguel.zavala.75470…

THE WINNER said...

Know what I said to Allison?

"Doesn't it seem more like Ernesto Alvarado just assumed the IDENTITY of an educated person? He argues in a University forum that 'amoral' isn't a word, while failing to acknowledge my point about the attorney firing scandal that happened during THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION UNDER ALBERTO GONZALEZ."