In a recent column, David Brooks calls the differences between the haves and have-nots an "opportunity gap. " Our 10 year study of poverty and privilege in two neighborhoods in Philadelphia indicates a far more draconian scenario. The opportunity gap is actually a result of another, more pervasive divide.
In our new book, A Fighting Chance, we show how social mobility depends, first and foremost, on a child's ability to gain information. For example, the average child in a neighborhood of privilege has access to about 13 books on a daily basis. In a neighborhood of poverty, there's one book for every 300 children. With more information resources and more capable adult assistance, we estimate that children of affluence hear nearly 14 times the number of words than do children of poverty prior to entering elementary school. The digital age only heightens these differences, as affluent children explore cyberspace through home access to computers and the Internet. Children in poverty, with far less access to technology at home, must seek it after-school programs, community centers, and the library, but these organizations can only offer about two computers for every 100 children.
As most teachers know, these differences begin to spiral out of control by the time students enter high school. What starts out as a difference in resources becomes an ever-growing knowledge gap affecting the ability to gain vital information capital. This precious commodity -- the power to think and use information creatively -- is the basis of growing class disparity. Without information capital, children in poverty can't take their rightful place in the ever-growing knowledge economy. Their hopes and dreams for social mobility are doomed.