by Yvette Carnell
At wealthy schools around the country, kids aren’t playing with legos or blocks, they’re being told to “Grab your iPads and your Spheros!”
A New Yorker piece detailed how these schools are teaching young students to code using Sphero balls:
Hope and achievement sometimes coincided. That day, three students posited that they could save a koala from hunters by attaching a Sphero to its back. They created a maze shaped like the number three to simulate a path out of the forest. Their code reached twenty lines, starting with “Roll .5 seconds at 57% of Sphero’s maximum speed, direction 0 degrees,” “Roll 0.4 seconds at 78% of speed, heading 45 degrees,” and “Roll three seconds at 55%, course 106 degrees.” After two dozen twists and turns, the Sphero, weaving and bobbing nimbly, found its way to safety.
When I posted about these balls on Facebook, asking how kids without resources could compete with these kids at elite schools, the response from most commenters was ‘Get our kids some balls!’
Thinking about these balls as just balls is a mistake. They’re representations of wealth. The school profiled in the New Yorker article costs $16,000 a year to attend. Even if you purchase the balls for your own kids, it is assumed that you will have the iPad that’s required to use them. This isn’t about purchasing one thing or the other; it’s about a social structure of wealth that underpins a child’s success or dooms him to failure.
Chicago’s public schools are closing and teachers at the leftover schools don’t even have mops, let alone balls to encourage them to learn a programming language. These balls are several hundred dollars and the middle black family is only worth $1,700 in hard assets. And even if African-American parents were gifted these balls, parents will never be able to keep pace with INSTITUTIONS and STRUCTURES that are preparing elite kids for success.
So even if you’re successful at teaching your child to code, what’s the determining factor in whether that child goes to work for Facebook or becomes part of the gig economy at UpWork?
Wealth is not only about having the money to buy Sphero, but also having the relationships necessary to maintain and increase wealth. This is why wealthy people send their kids to school with other wealthy people and tend to marry wealthy. They’re building a structure to increase wealth for at least four or five generations. African-Americans, descendants of chattel slaves, don’t have those relationships or the wealth that comes with them. The wealth from slavery is still is our economy, as is the poverty.
Is there a solution? Not one that doesn’t involve the government investing enormous sums in the African-American community. Before we talk solutions, however, we must first understand that these balls are just an expression of inequality in America. There isn’t enough will or drive in any individual to overcome the structures that support historic levels of inequality in America.
At most, you’ll find a few outliers–like Oprah or Magic Johnson–whose success commits African-Americans to the faulty notion that we’re living in a meritocracy. As long as black people keep living that lie, we’ll remain strivers who blame ourselves for failures that were built into the system.