“All children are born with equal potential but not with equal opportunity.”
I have heard this phrase or an alternate of it several times the last few weeks as I have been prepping professionally to work with high-risk youngsters.
And it breaks my fucking heart.
This country has always prided itself on the fact that all children start from the same distance from the finish line. Every beating heart brought onto this Earth has the chance for success. We constantly reference rags to riches success stories and those who turn their food stamps into college degrees. We have seen it happen a handful of times, therefore it’s possible and no individual should ever fall below that standard.
In this sense, we are saying that the same child who grows up in a food desert, eating nothing but hot Cheetos and Poptarts from the gas station has no excuse to not obtain all the same successes as a child who walks to Whole Foods every weekend with his parents and eats organic almond butter on his nine-grain toast every morning.
The argument for potential vs. opportunity can be outlined in numerous formats: nutrition, transportation, parental involvement, access to healthcare, access to information, biological stress levels, exposure to pollution, exposure to crime, violence, drugs, sex whether virtually or in person, city funding and subsequently school district funding, political agendas, teacher enthusiasm, clear and enticing extrinsic motivators which allows the list to continue infinitely.
The “nature vs. nurture” debate (look into behaviorism and the biological approaches of psychology if you are unfamiliar) has been, at its core, a timeless argument about whether our biology has a more relevant role than our environment in our behaviors/thoughts/ actions.
The recognition of lack of opportunity compared to potential makes a strong argument for the nurture debate in that no environment, no home life, no set of influences impacts any given child the same way. And when that environment epitomizes a “lack of,” success becomes less and less obtainable regardless of the intrinsic motivation one possesses.
Willpower, internal motivation, determination, and desire are immeasurable in their influence over our actions and the course of our lives making those few success stories possible. But they do not excuse the influence the environment has and the lack of acknowledgement our country has for the lack of equal access to success every child taking their first breath has. Children are born with the same amount of potential to change the world but are not given the same amount of resources to do so.
How can we possibly still be blaming a child for not taking advantage of an opportunity that they were never given…