I believe that all children deserve equal education.
As a teacher for twenty-seven years, I have taught in private and public schools, preschool through adult level. Overseas, in the Deep South, the mid-Atlantic states, New England, and the southwest.
What I have seen is a vast difference in educational standards depending on opportunities afforded by income and a vast indifference towards this problem. The wealthy seem less and less interested in altruism and equal advantages in society (if in fact they ever were concerned), and those suffering a poorer level of education and standard of living seem more and more to have given up asking for change. Scholarship and advancement seem at times to be “out of fashion” in many poverty-stricken American communities, and this has not always been the case. When did it cease being an aspiration to achieve against all odds? Is tenacity no longer the “American way?”
I have taught pampered children who expect good grades without trying very hard, as they would expect their rooms to be cleaned or their shirts ironed. Their attitude is that teachers are just service workers, and parents who pay the tuition and establish their trust funds have the power to decide their children’s futures more than any other adult in their lives or even more than they themselves.
I have also taught bright disadvantaged children who often glimpse a difference in their lives through education, yet among their peers they must battle the negative stigma of being “too smart.”
How did our country become so polarized and unable to move ahead en masse?
Brown versus Board of Education, the famous Supreme Court case that ended segregation in 1954, knocked down the bogus idea of “separate but equal” that sprouted in the south after Reconstruction. We know through our collective consciousness and experience that separate is never equal. As economic classes separate themselves into the “haves” and the “have-nots” at alarming rates today, how is it that we no longer care about real education for all, or even for ourselves? Opportunities for true learning are tossed aside at both ends of the spectrum. Plagiarism, grade inflation, false matriculation, and other subtle or blatant forms of what can only be called cheating seem to be allowed everywhere to help students get by. These practices are bad stopgap solutions which cannot lead to greater rewards for individuals or in our societies as a whole.
Educational values do start in the home, then most children go outside the home to school where they test those values. Every school should stand for excellence, kindness, and unity. The results of good and bad education end up everywhere in our world. We are all affected by our lowest common denominator.
One possible solution that I have continually believed the right one is to give teachers highly competitive pay, much smaller classes, and a manageable number of classes. Then real learning will naturally take place. Education is not about pitting teachers against one another (merit pay), students against one another (No Child Left Behind), or every other profession against the honorable calling of true teaching (the result of making conditions and salaries substandard). If we would address the profession in terms of heightening communication between student and teacher and making a good job feasible rather than inventing programs or building new campuses first, we would see heightened integrity for all.
As long as I can remember, people and politicians have said they want to improve education, yet we continue to place ridiculous mandates on the poor and privileges which lack substance on the rich. I believe that all young Americans deserve a better future than what they are currently offered. If we concentrate on what is needed in education, we could make a change for the common good.