Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Admit the Truth of the Disadvantaged

Written by johnleemk on 1:19:45 am Sep 25, 2007.

Tonight, I was forced into attending a talk on diversity held by my university. The talk was a bit of a letdown, as most of the speakers spoke in cliches.

What got my attention at one point, however, was one girl who related her experience with socioeconomic diversity, as someone from an economically disadvantaged background.

At one point during her first year, she was at a class where a fellow student said something along the lines of, "Someone whose parents both did not go to college would be very unlikely to attend a prestigious university such as ours."

Now, the girl felt very offended by that statement. Although I am definitely not from a poor background (at the very least, I would say I am upper middle class), I can relate with that sentiment.

However, as offensive as it is, it is statistically true. It is as true as the fact that someone whose parents dealt drugs has a lower than average probability of becoming an economics professor.

What puzzles me is why people get offended by facts such as these about probability. They are statistically true, so what is taboo about mentioning or discussing them?

What would of course be offensive is saying "That's the way it is, and that's the way it should be." Now, that is a problem.

The truth of the matter is, people who are poor are statistically likely to remain in dire straits. That doesn't mean it is something we should accept.

We must admit that there is a problem before we can try to fix it. The girl who spoke earlier tonight related how she spent an hour travelling one way to school every day for 13 years to get where she is today, and how hard her parents worked to provide for her the same opportunities that the "prep school" kids at my university easily had access to.

What we need most in this world is some minimal equality of opportunity — to give as many people as possible access to some number of opportunities. We can't hide this problem under the carpet.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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