Teens Talk Income Inequality, Empathy
University Heights High School is on St. Anns Avenue in the South Bronx, which is part of the poorest congressional district in America, according to the Census Bureau. Six miles away is the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, with its arched stone entrance and celebrities’ children and $43,000-a-year tuition. Eight years ago, as part of a program called Classroom Connections, students from the schools began exchanging letters, which eventually led to a small group from University Heights visiting Fieldston for a day. “At the time in our school, these were tough street kids,” said Lisa Greenbaum, who has been teaching English literature at University Heights for 10 years. “They walked into Fieldston, and they were just overwhelmed. They couldn’t imagine that this was just minutes from where they lived, and they never even knew about it. One kid ran crying off campus. It made them so disheartened about their own circumstances.”
The New York Times Magazine published a feature about a group of teenagers from very different high schools who have worked together for eight years in a sort of cultural exchange over the class divide. The article focuses on an exercise the kids undergo where they tell each other a story about themselves and then the other person presents it to the group in the first person. Radical empathy!
“It was so important to him,” Johnny said afterward. “And now it was kind of my story, too. So it was really important to me to get it right.”
The piece also features some insightful commentary from the kids. Here’s Anabel Simotas, a 16 year old with more class awareness than many adults:
Anabel “I’m very lucky and privileged to have the parents I have. They’ve never stressed money in my life, which has given me an idea of success that isn’t based on money, but rather happiness and self-fulfillment. This may be because my family hasn’t ever openly struggled financially in my lifetime. I don’t usually think of money in a social context — who has more and who has less — but again, maybe this is due to the fact that I’ve never personally struggled to make money or get by.”
And here is Nagib, 18, with some real talk for us on this Wednesday:
People say that success is not determined by income, and I mostly agree, but I want my success to be determined by income. I want to be able to support my family. Also, most of the things that I worry about now are money-related, and I don’t want my children to have to worry like my siblings and I did.”