The American Dream and the Power of Wealth: Choosing Schools and Inheriting Inequality in the Land of Opportunity

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Taylor & Francis, 2006 - Social Science - 231 pages
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The American Dream and the Power of Wealth investigates the way that wealth (rather than income) structures educational opportunity in the United States. Furthermore, it shows the way that educational opportunity-the bedrock upon which our pervasive ideology of meritocracy or, in Johnson's terms, "the American Dream" is founded-structures the racial class system in the United States. She accomplishes this by analyzing an impressive store of qualitative and quantitative research on three cities: Boston, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. The meritocratic ideology is riddled with contradictions due to the massive and growing wealth disparity between blacks and whites, in particular. Everyone wants the best for their children, but access to assets is what allows wealthy people to either send their children to private school or buy expensive homes in neighborhoods with good public schools. In this equation, income doesn't matter so much, but wealth-which is typically inherited-does. Not surprisingly, black Americans, who on average have far less wealth than white Americans, are often unable to attend the best schools. And since educational attainment is the root of our alleged meritocracy, whites disproportionately dominate it-and families with wealth, even when they recognize the meritocracy as a problem, don't opt out of the system that has successfully reproduced itself for decades. Essentially, the meritocratic ideology of the American Dream continues to cast a powerful spell, and people who stand to benefit will participate in it regardless of the social issues involved.

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Chapter 1 The Wealth Gap and the American Dream
Chapter 2 Meritocracy and Good Schools
Chapter 3 Buying In and Opting Out
Chapter 4 Making Do and Feeling Stuck
Chapter 5 Wealth Privilege
Chapter 6 Inequality and Ideology
Chapter 7 An Unresolved Conflict

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About the author (2006)

Heather Beth Johnson is Frank R. Hook Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lehigh University.

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