The Problem With Bootstraps

Once upon a time there was a brand new teacher.  It was her first teaching job, and she was so thrilled to be teaching these fresh little 1st graders. She had big dreams for them and no matter what happened that year…she wanted to make sure every single one of those students knew one thing.

That one thing she wanted them to know was that they could do anything…anything that they dreamed of…as long as they just worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

So one day in class, they got on the topic of dreams, and this first year teacher-filled with excitement, decided that she would dismiss each student for recess after she heard about their dreams and encouraged them.

The first student was little Johnny.

The teacher asked little Johnny what his dream was.

He said, “I want to be a pilot!”

“That’s great little Johnny….guess what?! You can be a pilot, I believe in you, all you have to do is work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can be a pilot!”

His face lit up with a huge grin.

“Now run along and play.”

Next was little Annie.

“Annie…what is your dream for growing up?”

“I want to be a professional dancer!”

“That’s great little Annie….guess what?! You can be a professional dancer, I believe in you, all you have to do is work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can do it! Now run along and play”

Next was little Oscar.

“Oscar, what is your dream when you grow up?”

Oscar sheepishly said, “I want to be a firefighter!”

“Well, that’s just wonderful Oscar, guess what? You can e a firefighter, I believe in you, all you have to do is work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can do it!”

Oscar seemed a bit puzzled and asked, “What are bootstraps?”

The teacher just chuckled and said, “Oh they are what you are going to use to pull yourself up so you can succeed, now run along and play.”

Oscar, still a bit confused, ran out to recess.

Next was little Mya.

“Mya, what is your dream when you grow up?”

“I want to be a business owner!”

“That’s fantastic Mya, guess what?! You can be a business owner, I believe in you, all you have to do is work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can do it!”

Mya looked down.

“What’s wrong Mya?”

“I don’t have bootstraps…”

The teacher appeared rattled and unsure of how to respond.

“Hmm, Mya, I’m sorry, I’m not sure what to say, but how about you run along and play”

Trying to shake off Mya’s response, the teacher approached her last student, Little Jose.

“Jose, what is your dream when you grow up?”

Jose’s bright eyes looked up at his teacher.

“I want to be surgeon!”

“That’s great Jose, guess what?! You can be a surgeon, I believe in you, all you have to do is work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can do it!”

Jose’s bright eyes quickly turned to the ground.

“What’s wrong Jose?”

“I…I…can’t be a surgeon Miss…”

“Well why not? You can do anything as long as you work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps!”

“But, Miss….I don’t have bootstraps, and even if I did, I don’t have any boots…”

We live in a society that preaches this mantra “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”.

It’s a great mantra that encourages hard work and resilience and personal accountability…AND…it is only applicable to those that

1) Have boots

2) Have boots with bootstraps

3) Know what bootstraps are

4) Know how to use bootstraps

So…until our children have equitable access to resources like “boots” and “bootstraps”, this phrase is worthless, no matter how lovely it sounds.

It should be our personal mission to ensure that we are helping with this epidemic of inequitable access to resources. Whether it is social economic status, race, ability, etc., we need to become more aware of the disparity among our children in education and then later on in life.

There is disparity. Working hard is not always the end all be all to success.

It’s time to look at this issue straight in the face. We live in a world of equality, and that is our downfall. Equality is like giving everyone a pair of shoes and telling them to run a race, but not getting them the right size. 

Equity is the answer.

Equity is hard for many to accept and grasp because equity is not equal. Equity means since students get accommodations whole others do not. Equity means the work load is not “even” at times. 

Because, eventually, when people have boots with bootstraps and people know what they are and how to use them… I would love for our world to truly be able to live by that phrase.

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