"So I didn't write this book because I've accomplished something
extraordinary. I wrote this book because I've achieved something
quite ordinary, which doesn't happen to most kids who grow up like
me. You see, I grew up poor in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town
that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can
remember. I have, to put it mildly, a complex relationship with my
parents, one of whom has struggled with addiction for nearly my entire
life. My grandparents, neither of whom graduated from high school,
raised me, and few members of even my extended family attended
college. The statistics tell you that kids like me face a grim
future--that if they're lucky, they'll manage to avoid welfare; and if
they're unlucky, they'll die of a heroin overdose, as happened to
dozens in my hometown just last year."
If you're like me, this paragraph from the introduction to J. D.
Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
will raise questions in your mind. The primary one should be why so
many people are doomed to a life in which failure is dying early of an
overdose and success is avoiding involvement in the welfare system. A
lot of people will be happy to tell you there is one reason and,
therefore, one panacea. Many liberal politicians say lack of money,
adequate food/health/housing, and jobs. Then there are the
conservatives like Maine's current Governor, Paul LePage, who say poor
people are just plain lazy. "Tough love" in the form of benefit cuts
and restrictions will solve the problem by forcing them to work.
Vance shows that the issue is a lot more complex than all that.
College access, for example, is not just about money. There's the
human capital of having the right kind of references. There's insider
information on stuff like filling out financial aid forms. And
there's the difficulty of envisioning oneself in that environment if
people like you don't go.
Vance managed to graduate not only from college, but from a
prestigious law school. So how, given all the perils mentioned on the
lead paragraph of this review, did he overcome all the odds? Read the
book to see. It is a real thought provoker as well as a riveting true
On a personal note, there used to be a branch of a government funded
sports camp at UMaine. For six weeks each summer students who
qualified were bussed to campus where they tackled science as well as
being immersed in sports. Kids were able to learn the ins and outs of
college preparation and application. They also got the chance to
envision college as somewhere they belonged. My younger daughter went
several years and loved it. So what happened? The program was axed
to cut on spending, leaving kids who could have been helped to succeed
out of luck.
A great big shout out goes out to all who fight on behalf of kids and
adults in left behind groups in American society.
Sent from my iPod