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June 23, 2013

CEPEDA: Trouble with a 'textured' life

In his revealing book "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," Charles Murray spends hundreds of pages using statistics to illustrate the rising inequality that is increasingly putting the white working class on the path toward generational poverty.

Murray concludes by suggesting that the "new upper class" — which increasingly is cloistered in pockets of rich, highly educated super-neighborhoods — move into the communities of "regular" people.

"Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well lived requires engagement with those around us," writes Murray, who himself lives in what he describes as an increasingly troubled "blue-collar and agricultural region of Maryland." He closes: "A civic Great Awakening among the new upper class can arise in part from the renewed understanding that it can be pleasant to lead a glossy life, but it is ultimately more rewarding — and more fun — to lead a textured life, and be in the midst of others who are leading textured lives."

Murray's invocation sprung to mind a few weeks ago as I was reading stay-at-home dad Andy Hinds' "Why I Want to Choose the 'Disadvantaged' Local School (and Why I Might Not)" on The New York Times' "Motherlode" blog. Hinds describes the gut-wrenching choice he has to make about whether to put his "mixed-race, socioeconomically advantaged, English-proficient twin girls" into the good school where his neighbors' kids go or into the troubled school only a five-minute walk from his home. His idealism makes him wonder if he and a group of caring, motivated parents could change a school with 100 percent poverty and a predominantly Hispanic student body. Ultimately, such participation could make a difference for the whole community. Hinds worries that, "Even in the best case, we can expect some attrition once the distance between our expectations and the reality comes into focus. If I end up being one of the parents who bail on this movement, it might make things awkward with some of my neighbors." I chuckled when I read that. You see, I'm in the middle of a similar grand experiment. I moved into a newly redeveloped community with failing schools. Several of my new neighbors joined me in the belief that we were going to lift our neighborhood schools up by our very presence and effort. Yet here we are, over a decade on, with schools that are still failing miserably. But unlike Hinds, I don't have to worry about my neighbors' feelings — when they realized their children were being left further behind from their peers in nearby school districts with better facilities and more resources, most of them simply moved away.

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