Institutions and Success

Stirring the Pot

Towards the end of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance writes that “We can build policies based on a better understanding of what stands in the way of kids like me. The most important lesson of my life is not that society failed to provide me with opportunities. . . .  [Social welfare programs] are far from perfect, but to the degree that I nearly succumbed to my worst decisions (and I came quite close), the fault lies almost entirely with factors outside the government’s control.”

So that those who haven’t read the book yet will know, Vance grew up primarily under his grandparents’ care because his mother, for large portions of her life, was an unemployable addict. Without Social Security and other government programs, Vance’s hard life would have been much worse.

I’m curious, then: what kind of investment should governments make in the education and well-being of its children, especially those who are poor? If somebody like Vance concludes that personal choices dictate levels of success, then how should we prioritize government spending on educational and health institutions? Vance’s descriptions of his journey to success are compelling, so I am curious about your reactions to the conclusions he draws about government policies.

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9 Responses to Institutions and Success

  1. Alicia Argrett says:

    While I understand that there is and never will be a one size fits all policy regarding government policies, I do believe that the government definitely could do more to maximize the positive effects these policies have on people. The American public school system is horrendous. We are setting up our posterity for failure with these overextended life application curriculums that have been to already be ineffective. A great rhetoric that can be applied to the act of implementing Common Core is ‘why fix what isn’t already broken?’ Healthcare wise, I don’t feel educated enough or in the position to speak on, because I mooch off of my mother’s government benefits. However, the shady business being done to indigent people isn’t fair. While they could be considered an afterthought on the socioeconomic ladder, they should make up a strong basis of the decision making.

  2. Khytavia Fleming says:

    Vance is correct in many ways about one needing support to get to success. Also, if a person doesn’t want to be prosperous themselves, then no one can make them. The government should fund more money into programs and events that aid in the tutoring and teaching of the youths education, but that doesn’t mean they should decrease funding in other areas. I believe EBT cards (food stamps) and medicaid are essential to people with a much lower income.

  3. Linda Arnoldus says:

    Perhaps we need less social welfare and more social workers. Vance says repeatedly throughout the book that it was really the people in his life that saved him, not any institution. For example, Vance said that he went to a fine school, but without his grandmother to push him and his grandfather to read with him, he probably wouldn’t have succeeded. This could be mirrored in social work, tutoring programs, etc.

  4. X says:

    The government has established ways to help the poor by providing free and reduced lunch and food stamps. Often times, along with public education, this is not enough. Those below the poverty line need more help, and allowing them to attend school at the same pace as people who are more well off may inhibit their ability to learn because they may not be able to keep up. I think that the government should establish better educational systems and hire teachers who genuinely care and teach those who do not comprehend things as fast as others. Although it is true that personal choices do play a factor in determining health and success, most people who are in poverty do not have much control over it. They can’t get a better job then what they already have, and that is because of their education. The basis of the issues is education. Society revolves around the professional degree you receive from college, and if you don’t have one, you won’t be hired for a stable job that can support you and your family. So, in conclusion, the government should utilize the allotted money for education more efficiently, establishing a system in which all students of all levels can learn effectively.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Our government was built on the basis of socio-economic statuses and our Constitution was written without the consideration of Native Americans, women, and African American humans. The entire governmental system was built for an elite group of upper-class privileged Caucasian men. Your economic and living circumstances plays a vital role into your success story, for example, in the African American community, more than 50% of African American males who attend college either do not graduate or flunk out and one of the reasons being is that it’s “too hard.” African Americans have the highest poverty rate in America of 27.4%, followed by Hispanics with a 26.6%. The educational systems and environmental factors are important because it either pushes you to make a mistake or pushes you to know not to make a mistake. For example, I was raised in a poverty-stricken small-town in rural Mississippi where we were not up-to-date with the rest of the world. Growing up in a neighborhood with junkies and drug-dealers, where most teenagers were mothers on food stamps, but instead of using my situation to push me into trouble and bad decisions like the individuals around me, I pushed myself towards higher education and to ultimately get out of the situation I was in. However, the government does play into the trend of dependency by offering these federal aid opportunities and allowing them to turn into lifestyle choices.

  6. Jessikah Morton says:

    I feel that to some degree Vance has a point that personal choices dictates success but in order for people to be successful they have to have the tools in order to be eligible to be successful. That’s why the government should be focused on funding education for people who don’t neccessarily live in the best conditions so they could have the same chance as someone who live in better conditions where recieving a quality education isn’t an issue. The governement should be here to bridge the gap between the opportunities rich and poor people have. The only thing the governement can’t control is if the tools that they supply to poorer people are used in a productive way.

  7. Alexandra Magee says:

    J. D. Vance critiques that any person would have failed to evolve into a taxpaying citizen regardless of whether the government stepped in or not. There are some government agencies, policies, and “gifts” offered to the poor that are put in place to level the playing field of achieving education which in turn helps to level the economic playing field. Government aid and educational policy should be viewed as temporary and not as lifestyle choices, unfortunately, most do not figure that out until after 20 years. While observing current trends, in my opinion, a large population of government of “gift” recipients do not realize these policies were put in place as a provisional solution. I think the government should invest in the well-being of children by mandating checkpoints within the learning process and giving an incentive to becoming high-functioning members of society. Similarly, we should prioritize government spending for education by ensuring the money is being given to efforts that cause proficiency scores and attendance to rise.

  8. Davan Reece says:

    Henry David Thoreau said it best: “The best government is that which governs the least.” Education and health of its people should always be a top priority for any reasonable nation, and programs such as SNAP and Medicare are necessary to the lowest of society. As a nation, we should govern with compassion, but these programs can serve as much as a deterrent from becoming a functioning and successful member of society as a poor education. Throughout the book, Vance’s mother struggles with her dependency on medication and other drugs, but can’t a dependency on an institution, such as a government, serve as a similar “drug”? We live in a country where our government literally shuts down almost yearly. So, while the question may be how we should prioritize the system, maybe we should be asking if the system is safe and sturdy to begin with.

  9. Katie Steil says:

    Generally, people don’t have very much control over their statuses in life. They do control how much they do with what they are given. Instead of being upset over the amount of welfare the government gives, it’s better, but not easier, to be thankful. Personally, I do believe there should be more funding for schools’ arts and education systems. These things can help further a child along and give them an outlet. They can also be an excuse for a child to get out of a home that may not be safe for them. Welfare can be rather controversial at times, but it can also be an absolute necessity. The problem with it comes from those people who abuse the system. They take away from those who really need it. I don’t know that an increase in funding would do very much, but I do believe that there are ways that could theoretically make it harder for people to take more than they need.

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