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Making Education Work for the PoorThe Potential of Children's Savings Accounts$
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Willliam Elliott and Melinda Lewis

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190621568

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190621568.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 June 2021

Effort Appears Inadequate in the Modern World:Our Identities Are Shaped by Our Real- Life Chances

Effort Appears Inadequate in the Modern World:Our Identities Are Shaped by Our Real- Life Chances

Chapter:
3 Effort Appears Inadequate in the Modern World:Our Identities Are Shaped by Our Real- Life Chances
Source:
Making Education Work for the Poor
Author(s):

Willliam Elliott

Melinda Lewis

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190621568.003.0007

In its simplest form, the American dream is the belief that success should be determined by effort, not unfair advantage. This idea is embedded in the psyche of most Americans and shapes the way we collectively view individuals’ outcomes. It forms the lens through which we judge social policies that undergird opportunities or compound disadvantage. It is powerful enough to influence the way that people see their own success and failure and that of others. It can blind Americans to the structural forces that chart our fates. Indeed, Americans who want so badly to believe that there is a logic to the forces that shape their outcomes and a real path to their promised future may even excuse patently unfair institutions and the injustices they perpetuate. While these system- justifying beliefs can buffer people from the stress of contemplating abject inequity, as evidence mounts that things are not working as they should, defenses slip, doubts rise, and cracks emerge in the American dream. Today, there is a growing sense that this dream is more nostalgic memory than an accurate representation of the way the world works. A 2014 survey found that 48% of Americans believed that the American dream once was true but is not true anymore. These doubts represent more than just whispered anxieties or casual statements of political frustration. Instead, we contend that belief in the American dream is an expression of deeply rooted faith in our institutions and their ability to deliver on their promises, which in turn becomes a covenant in modern governance. This means that Americans’ increasing skepticism about whether institutions will ensure that their efforts pay off threatens the foundation of civil society. In other words, our inclination to rationalize societal arrangements has limits. When we can no longer explain away inequitable outcomes from schools, the labor market, and government policies, the social contract Americans have forged together is broken.

Keywords:   American dream, Identity-Based Motivation theory, Industrial Revolution, ability, winners, automatic responses, cognitive expectations, institutional efficacy, institutional inequality, normal contingency, normative expectations, opportunity framework, outcome expectations, self-reliance ethos, wealth inequality

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