Podcast Review: Revisionist History, “Carlos Doesn’t Remember”

eisnerheadlineHow well does America capitalize on it’s human potential?

This podcast is about the story of Carlos, a hispanic student from a low-income community in southeast LA, and explores how well his human potential was realized by current America. He’s a smart kid who is a part of a program that helps kids from low-income communities get placed into good high schools. The program identified Carlos early on and helped place him into a private high school on a scholarship.

As Gladwell asks Carlos questions about his life and experiences, well, we hear what Carlos has gone through. He faced cultural challenges, having to “go where opportunity is”, and in 8th grade, Carlos and his sister were put in foster care. It’s interesting because he says “he definitely still tries at school and doesnt let it affect him too much” as he doesnt have the luxury to mess up. He doesn’t remember these bad situations that affect his life because he cannot allow them to phase him. He couldn’t afford to go to boarding school because he had to take care of the family. Quite a different scenario plays out in a student growing up in privilege.

Privilege buys you second chances.

Gladwell discusses Ivy League schools who looked to offer full scholarships for low-income students, but a mere additional 15-20 people were admitted. He looks at a study in which over 35k students are low income and score over 90% on the SATs or ACTs. So where are these students? Gladwell finds most of these people don’t even apply. These admission officers are also looking for Carlos-type students way too late because they might not even show up later. Too many challenges such as the ones Carlos has experienced just get in the way.

If the excitement about being smart isnt encouraged, it goes away.

For those few who do make it out, like Carlos, they are tremendously lucky.

The crazy part is, it takes a program like this one just to get someone like Carlos on equal footing and have a chance towards realizing his human potential.

That begs the question, how many are there who aren’t offered this opportunity? Gladwell says this story shouldn’t be inspiring, it’s depressing.

I think this podcast definitely offered a perspective I have been lacking on. Coming from a low-income community, I resonated with the “they don’t affect me much” attitude towards things besides school. But now I see two issues with that mindset, and why using that to judge why others who come from poorer communities and can’t get themselves out is mistaken. Well firstly, I didn’t even come close to the difficulties Carlos faced. I honestly had it pretty well off considering our socioeconomic status. Second, I’m assuming that others were able to adopt the same mentality and not be emotionally affected by the things plaguing their lives. I saw this firsthand and I didn’t realize it. And I also saw the things I lost out on in adopting that mentality- including being distant in family, and having difficulty showing weakness and vulnerability to others.

A couple of other things that came to mind:

  • This also makes me rethink my belief in affirmative action, not even purely in the context of college admissions, but also in one’s career.
  • It shows the importance of these programs to realizing human potential in these communities
  • It makes me want to research more into social mobility

Man, this story was heartbreaking.


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