Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Forgotten Half/Hope Factor

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What is the Hope Factor?
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up.

—Anne Lamott

So what is the "Hope Factor" all about anyway? According to Anton Gentry in his book Learning to Survive: Black Youth Look for an Education and Hope, it is the factor that allows even the poorest most destitute individual to succeed. It is the belief that you can do anything you want to do, achieve your wildest dreams, and be anyone in the universe that you want to be. All you need is a sense of hope.

This is evident in the success of many young people. Despite their “bad” beginnings, many go on to do great things, regardless of the stumbling blocks, and sometimes even hurdles, that life throws in their paths. Gentry believes that the Hope Factor is the “triumph of spirit over adversity” and allows students to excel despite their rotten home life, or their boredom with typical school drama, or their chronic colds, and even the dreaded “super-duper senior-itis,” or the repeated failure (Gentry).

The Hope Factor gives those students deemed as the “Forgotten Half” the ability to hope, the belief that they CAN and WILL achieve whatever they want.

The "Forgotten Half"—Kids Who Shouldn't Slip through the Cracks[edit]

Who is the "Forgotten Half"?[edit]

According to the William T. Grant Foundation, the forgotten half are the young people who work in construction, auto repair, TV repair, and basically keep the production lines moving. They are the thousands of individuals who want to make a decent wage, but can never quite make it to the right type of job. They are the 20 million non college bound youth in America. They are the teens who drop out of high school all across the nation, the people who leave college everyday without a degree, the people the too few notice slipping away. They are the one who need our help.

Why are they important?[edit]

These people are important because they are basically the cogs and wheels of society. Where would we be if there was no one at Firestone to rotate our tires? If there were no bus drivers to get us to work on time, no construction workers to build our homes? We would be out of luck, or in the case of the tires, facing a lawsuit from the person we rammed into because we had bald tires!

The “Forgotten Half” should not be forgotten, however. Job opportunities are much easier to come by if there is a college degree in the mix. Individuals without college degrees are often faced with “bleak job prospects,” leading to low self-esteem, and a general sense of “down and out-ness” (wtgrantfoundation). Many stop looking for jobs altogether because it is too much of a let-down.

A disappointingly large number of American youth give little back to their communities, because they feel “shortchanged” (wtgrantfoundation). Their families pushed the too hard, or didn’t push hard enough; at school, they fell through the cracks, barely passing from one grade to the next; at work, they are mediocre at best, they know they can do better. But how?


The Cambridge Dictionary says that the definition of efficacy is “an ability [...] to produce the intended result; effectiveness.” The definition of self efficacy then, is a person’s belief in their ability to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives (Bandura). A strong sense of self efficacy, however does not apply only to the forgotten half. This should be present in all people; it encourages one to approach problems as trials to be conquered, not as “threats” to be avoided at all costs. This results in an individual who is very intrinsically involved and deeply absorbed in their activities; thus leading to motivated individuals who are no longer content to be a part of the forgotten half.

But what happens when the forgotten half is no longer forgotten? Nothing! We simply have a more motivated, educated, driven society that no longer accepts mediocrity as a solution to their problems. There will be more colleges, better suited to meet the needs of the previously forgotten half. These will focus, perhaps, on vocational skills, rather than classic "book knowledge." The youth will be better suited to this type of learning environment and thus be better motivated to succeed.

Nurturing Hope in the Classroom[edit]

It is hard to nurture hope in a classroom full of inner city children. Many of these kids come from poverty stricken, single parent households (Perlstein). Some have parents with drug problems, some have drug problems themselves, some may not have a home to go to at all, but ALL children deserve a chance, and it is YOUR job to make sure that every child in you classroom gets their chance to succeed.

As a teacher, you need to be able to take these kids out of their personal lives for a few hours a day. School needs to become a sanctuary for them. A place where they can come in the morning that is safe for them to explore themselves, and the world around them and leave in the afternoon further enlightened and charged to make a difference in the life of someone else. It will be hard at first. I know I am not looking forward to my first day at an inner city school in Los Angeles. I don’t know, personally, where those kids are coming from, but I do know that it is my job, my calling, to get these kids to the point where they feel that they can do ANYTHING that they set their minds to. Sure there will be attitude, a few scowls and tantrums, but don’t patronize them. Treat them like regular kids. Don’t talk about their home lives; school is not the place for that. Instead focus on your lessons. What do you intend for them to take home with them? What profound words of wisdom do you have to offer? And above all else, don’t sink to their level. Attacking back is like a death knell. They will try to eat you alive.

New Teachers.... New Hope?[edit]

New teachers in the inner city are mostly young, hip, and upbeat; however, they are also inexperienced in dealing with the day to day trials of the inner city schools. This is both a drawback and an asset.

It is a drawback in the fact that these teachers are often the least paid, least equipped teachers in the nation. Coming from college, where computers are readily available, libraries are plentiful, families are loving and supportive, and suddenly finding themselves thrust into a school with second hand books, no computers, an ill equipped library (if there is one), broken families, no families, no support groups, nothing. There is no money in the school system; therefore no improvements. How can a teacher have hope for themselves, much less inspire their student to remain hopeful in the face of adversity? It’s simple. Come to class with a smile everyday. No matter what happens. These kids need to have something constant in their lives. It is up to the teacher, in most instances, to be that constant. Now it’s not implied that teachers should be perpetually happy, that would be weird. But at least start the day out with a smile

The asset to being a young, hip, upbeat new teacher? There has been no time for the teacher to become disillusioned by the system. They are new and fresh, full of ideas and concepts that are both innovative and fun. They are motivated to make a difference in the daily grind of their students. They aspire to have every one of their children succeed and statistics show that new teachers have a higher pass rate in their classrooms (Perlstein). Why? They are simply more motivated to make an impression, to keep their jobs in an environment where a pass/fail rate could influence whether they keep their jobs.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which individuals play a large part in a youth’s retention of a positive self-image?
A. Parents
B. Friends
C. Teachers
D. The student
E. All of the above

E. All of the above

After reviewing the IEP of a special needs student in her 4th grade class, Mrs. Higgens realizes that her student’s needs are not being met and that it is resulting in behavioral issues and a sense of hopelessness. How can Mrs. Higgins help her student feel more connected with her classmates and more upbeat about her situation?
A. Bring in a “special friend” to assist the student with her day to day activities.
B. Put the student in the back of the classroom and shove the IEP file under a stack of dusty old textbooks.
C. Ask other teachers how to handle the problem.
D. Request a meeting with the student’s parent/guardian to put together a plan of action, and follow through with the plan.

D. Request a meeting with the student’s parent/guardian to put together a plan of action, and follow through with the plan.

What factors might influence a child’s sense of hope for the future?
A. A safe and reliable school environment and a supportive home environment.
B. Teachers and administrators that greet him cheerfully every day.
C. Rude teachers and a chaotic learning environment.
D. All of the above
E. A and B
F. None of the above.

E. A and B

Which of the following does NOT encourage self-efficacy
A. Informing the student on a regular basis how poorly he/she did on the last day’s assignment.
B. Assisting students who seem to be struggling.
C. Forming study groups within the classroom to reinforce the learned material.

A. Informing the student on a regular basis how poorly he/she did on the last day’s assignment.

Why is the “forgotten half” forgotten?
A. They perform many great tasks to the benefit of society.
B. They go to college with full scholarships.
C. They drop out of high school or college, and don’t have high paying jobs.
D. What is the “forgotten half?”

C. They drop out of high school or college, and don’t have high paying jobs.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response. {{question-answer|question=After reviewing the IEP of a special needs student in her fourth grade class, Mrs. Higgens realizes that her student’s needs are not being met and that this is causing a sense of hopelessness as well as behavioral issues. She has tried to contact the student’s guardian (in this case an elderly grandmother) but has been met with stiff resistance. What can Mrs. Higgens, herself, do to alleviate the problems her student is facing? |answer=Mrs. Higgens should schedule a meeting with the principal of her school, a special needs teacher, the student, and if possible, the guardian. There can be no resolution of the problem in the home if the grandmother refuses to acknowledge the students problems. However, the school should exist to serve the needs of the student; therefore, the IEP must be followed (not to mention that is the LAW that IEPs be followed!) By having the principal present, this ensures that he is aware of the issue and should be available as a resource to the child. The special needs instructor is present to help both the student and teacher; they have the training necessary to defuse most potentially dangerous or embarrassing situations that may arise. With the involvement of everybody concerned, the student should be well on the road to adjustment within the school environment.


  • Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. Retrieved September 25 2006 from
  • Gentry, A.A. & Peelle, C.C. (1995) Learning to Survive: Black Youth Look for an Education and Hope; Auburn House/Greenwood; Conneticut
  • Perlstein, D, (2004) A Kernel of Hope: Educational Leadership and Racial Justice; Journal of Curriculum and Supervision 19 no4 288-300 Summ 2004
  • William T. Grant Foundation (n.d.) Retrieved September 10, 2007 from