The Kids Aren't Alright
"Every educated person is a future enemy" - Martin Bormann (succeeded Adolf Hitler as Party Minister of the Nazi party)
Who's Ready to Learn!
For the second time this week, you're blasted awake by bright red and blue lights and the blistering scream of a police siren now parked directly across the street. Thanks to your parents' alcohol-induced screaming match last night, you only got a few hours of actual sleep. You went to bed hungry and anxious, and you're waking up in the same state. Your stomach grumbles loudly, and, for an instant, you're transported back to the delicious dream of a pizza party with all the bread sticks and soda you can handle. Then, reality sets in.
It's freezing in the bedroom that you share with two of your seven siblings - dad probably hasn't bothered to pay last month's heating bill. There are still a few precious minutes before your alarm is set to go off, and you close your eyes tightly as you pull the covers close. Your baby sister is howling down the hall thanks to the noise caused by your neighbors' early morning domestic dispute; your toes are numb from the cold, and you just can't get back to that dream. Maybe, if you get up now, you can be the first person in the bathroom this morning!
So much for that idea. Your oldest brother slipped in just ahead of you and slammed the door in your face an instant before you could stake your claim. Hot water is a valuable commodity in this household, and the forecast for today's shower appears frigid. Another dream deferred, you figure you'll try to be productive with your time, so down the stairs it is to scrounge up some breakfast.
The initial glance in the refrigerator isn't promising. The milk expired three days ago, but no one bothered to empty it down the drain or replace it with a fresh gallon. No biggie, though; it looks like there's one last egg left in the carton with your name written all over it! Check the cupboard for a frying pan, but no luck. Plunge through the mountain of dishes soaking in the two-day old water, and produce a sludge-coated hand gripping a filmy pan... Success! You look under the sink for some dish soap to clean the scum off of your find, but it looks like Palmolive didn't make last week's grocery list. Guess you'll just have to wait for your free and reduced school lunch to quiet your frustrated stomach.
Half an hour later, you're still waiting for your turn in the bathroom. Any hope for even lukewarm water is lost, so when your sister finally emerges (shoulders badly bruised from an altercation with her latest boyfriend), you run a comb through your hair, squeeze the last bit of toothpaste from the tube to brush your teeth, and splash some water on your face.
As you pass through the living room, you note the empty bottle of Old Crow nestled between your father's vomit-encrusted lips and the sofa pillow. Shaking your head, you carefully remove this relic of last night's revelry and toss a dirty quilt over his shivering torso. He mutters an indecipherable curse, and tucks his body into the fetal position as he rolls onto his side. At least he won't choke to death on his next round of hungover puking.
Before heading out for school, you check on your baby sister. She's still crying, but your 12-year old brother has volunteered to stay home from school to watch her today. Dad will be snoring on the couch until at least 2, and it's anyone's guess where mom is. The Plymouth is still parked in the gravel driveway, but she's nowhere to be found.
You're cold; you're hungry; you're dirty; you're scared; and Algebra starts in fifteen minutes. Good luck.
Poverty and Education
This is a reality shared by millions of kids in the United States. In 2010, nearly 25% of American children lived in poverty-stricken households. They deal with hunger, abuse, and neglect on a daily basis, and, then, we expect them to learn their multiplication tables and write book reports on The Great Gatsby. No child growing up poor in 2012 can relate to the decadence and prosperity of Roaring 20's era Long Island; they're just trying to survive the nightmare landscape into which they were born.
The numbers aren't pretty. According to dosomething.org, children being raised in poverty are six times as likely to drop out of school than wealthy children... SIX TIMES! In Detroit, perhaps the most destitute urban region in the country, less than 25% of high school students graduated in 2008. That means that not quite one in four young people in southeast Michigan are even eligible for employment anywhere other than the fast-food industry.
Is it any wonder that the divide between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow in this country? Wealthy children graduate from high-school, attend college, and are placed in professional positions by their mid-20s. They're given every opportunity, while their poor peers drop out at alarming rates and are left with a choice between menial jobs that pay minimum wage or a life of crime and squalor.
If we aren't equipping our young people with the necessary tools to succeed in this world (adequate food, shelter, and education), we can't be shocked when crime rates, unemployment, and poverty levels continue to increase. A quality public education for every citizen is the single unifying element of a prosperous democracy, which explains the correlation between our poor test scores and declining economy.
Who's to Blame?
The United States spends more money on our children's educations than any other country in the world. In 2009, annual spending per American student was over $7,000, yet, compared with other nations, our math, science, and graduation rankings are dismal, at best. We ranked 21st overall in graduation rate, 21st in science, and 25th in math.To top it off, nearly 70% of eighth graders fail to read at a proficient rate; it's pretty hard to score well on a standardized test when you can't read the questions being asked. How it possible that we pour so much money into an education system that repeatedly fails to produce competent students?
Now for America's favorite pastime: placing blame. Teachers blame parents for failing to get involved with their child's learning and to provide safe homes that can foster their studies. Parents blame teachers for failing to control the chaos of the modern classroom and implant a degree of intelligence in their children. Scholars and researchers blame the curriculum, which they view as being unnecessarily complicated, overwhelming once-inspired students to the point where they simply stop trying. While we're all culpable to some degree for the lowered expectations of our school, much of the blame can be placed at the feet of our political system of intrinsic repression.
Funding for public schools is largely based on the value of property in a given school district. Districts that have very low property taxes are likewise allocated very little education funding. Conversely, affluent districts have higher property taxes, and much larger chunks of money are being funneled into their schools. Rich families produce rich children who receive a rich, lasting education. Impoverished families produce impoverished children who receive an impoverished, short-lived education.
Like most problems in America, the education crisis is systemic; it's embedded within our political structure to ensure the success of the privileged and the surrender of the disenfranchised. Poor students are forced to drop out because they simply can't keep up with the demands of a challenging curriculum while balancing their volatile home environments. They're unable to learn basic job skills, so they flounder in futility, anxiously waiting for the bottom to drop out on them. They spend their lives trying to get by on minimum wage and they repeat the cycle of their lineage, while the financial discrepancy between the classes is further galvanized.
It makes me wonder: how can knowledge be power, if ignorance is bliss? And who determines who's enlightened and who's left in the dark? I guess it all depends on what your parents did for a living.