The issue is not about money, language or technology. It is about motivation. Students from Asia, Africa and Europe are outperforming the native born — ESL be damned. People learn on dirt floors, writing on slate tablets with chalk or writing on yesterdays newspaper. If someone wants it, they will take it. We have so much more to offer here than slate tablets and chalk. The trouble is not the schools, the textbooks or frankly the teachers. The trouble here lies with the failing students and their families.

The prime factor when it comes to motivation is culture. When the parents are involved, the student learns. As the son of an immigrant I have many memories of my parents keeping me motivated. The canard that the poor are prevented from being involved in helping their children scholastically due to economic challenges, such as a second job, is tripe. Look at the first generation Chinese, Indian and others who are sending their children to Ivy league schools at rates that exceed the national average.

The biggest wild-card in this model are ethnic gangs. When students, especially male, are subject to the gang sub-culture, the performance of the given ethnic group falls far below the national average. This problem is showcased among Latin American immigrants and is present in the Muonge, Vietnamese and Chinese new comers and others. Schools need to remove those who have been seduced by the gang subculture. Gang members can be schooled elsewhere, preferably under strict discipline. Good students need not be corrupted by the youthful criminals.

Our urban poor, regardless of color, are subject in many instances to an anti-meritocratic culture that rewards poor choices. In the inner city African American community the problem has become endemic. Bill Cosby has spoken on this matter many times, “Buy hooked on phonics, not $200 sneakers.” To do well in school is to ‘act white.’ Scholastic achievement is actively discouraged by the community that would benefit the most from it.

Such attitudes are present in other communities as well and cannot be overcome by I-Pads, laptops and in-focus machines. Such attitudes cannot be overcome by even the most fearless and gifted teachers. This is a job for parents. This is about personal accountability. This is about realizing that there is a future for anyone who is willing to sacrifice now, in order to prosper later. This is the essence of the American Dream.

We have created an underclass in this country, it started on the plantation and now has become racially diverse and moved into the inner city. This is vile.