By Contributor on April 28, 2011

By Alvaro Huerta

It's getting close to graduation time, a good time to note how kids from America's barrios and ghettos can succeed in higher education.

Here is what it takes: not just great teachers but also government-funded college prep programs catered specifically to historically disadvantaged students.

I should know since I benefited from all three.

I grew up on welfare in a housing project in East L.A., and I am well aware of the problems that kids in the inner city confront on a daily basis. In addition to attending overcrowded public schools, they live in blighted environments plagued by abject poverty, institutional racism, low educational attainment levels, high gang activity and drug addiction, along with rampant police abuse.

In spite of these tremendous obstacles, my Mexican immigrant parents managed to send four of their eight children to elite universities. They insisted that we get a good education.

I also was lucky to have Ms. Cher as my elementary school teacher. She had hair like Lucille Ball, but a huge heart, and she helped foster my mathematical skills. And when I had exhausted the assigned sixth-grade math books, she went out of her way to teach me algebra. She also took me, along with other class members, on a field trip to her Big Bear cabin, providing us with a rare opportunity beyond the railroad tracks, freeways and polluting factories surrounding our neighborhood.

But high school was harder, especially English class. How in the world can a kid from the projects -- who was only assigned one book, Steinbeck's The Pearl, and one two-page essay -- compete with privileged kids from the suburbs?

Ultimately, I had to teach myself to read and write at a competitive level.

But I didn't do it all by myself -- not by a long shot.

One pivotal experience I had was with Upward Bound -- a summer, residential, college prep program for historically disadvantaged students. This gave me a path ahead that escaped most of my childhood friends.

In addition, I was able to take courses at Occidental College during the summers of my high school years, which allowed me to gain my footing, as the teachers and staff created a rigorous and supportive academic environment for all of us.

There are millions of kids like me in the barrios and ghettoes of America who have the capacity to succeed in college. Most of them did not have my good luck with my attentive parents, nurturing teachers, Upward Bound and college summer school. And most of them don't have the resources to go to college in this era of declining scholarships.

It's a crime to write these kids off. We must do more so that every kid in America has the opportunity to succeed academically.

Alvaro Huerta is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of California-Berkeley's Department of City and Regional Planning, and he is a Visiting Scholar at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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