Some education, please, with a side of opportunity.

I am currently a freshman at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, double-majoring in political science and Spanish, and upon graduation, I would like to attend law school and hopefully become an active player in the world of politics. Coming from a lower-middle-class family in a Chicago suburb, this was no easy feat. My parents scraped and saved to send me to Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill. (roughly $8,000 per year) where I worked diligently for four years and was surrounded by students who wanted to learn and a faculty and staff who would give anything to teach the subjects for which they were so passionate. The standards for success were placed high up on a pinnacle that turned my high school into a journey toward knowledge that helped students develop a strong desire for personal achievement. I finally ended up at my dream school here in Milwaukee, and needless to say, I consider education to be one of the most important values within any society.

I participate in service work at an urban middle school here in Milwaukee, most of which is done with 12- and 13-year-old children, many of whom only speak Spanish. However, you cannot possibly imagine my surprise, and even my sadness, when I discovered that most of the children I would be working with were barely literate. While fundamental development of literacy skills begins at home, I still cannot help but feel mortified that even the English-speaking children passed 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th grade and were still unable to recognize basic words in their texts.

I am by no means an advocate for equality of outcome, but I am a vehement believer in equality of opportunity. Many parents, especially those in urban areas, simply cannot afford Catholic schooling, and public education is their only option. To me, this would not be a real problem if so many American public schools weren’t such a disgrace. Low property taxes and a lack of state funding leave the poorest towns with the worst education systems, creating a cycle of poverty and illiteracy that is extremely difficult to escape. While wealthier towns are able to support better public schools, the poorer towns are left with little resources. Even students with all the drive and determination in the world become stuck as they are surrounded by thousands of other students who just don’t care and dozens of teachers who don’t care enough to MAKE them care. The standards are set horrifically low and the road to success is short and unchallenging.

For example, “Yearbook” is offered as an English credit at my town’s high school to fulfill the state’s mandatory four-year English requirement. How will skills in yearbook help students perform well on their ACTs and SATs or write adequate essays for college applications? They won’t. While I am not saying that a typical four-year college is for everyone, the opportunity is. Even if students do not wish to attend a university, it is still crucial that they have the basic skills to file their taxes, read the newspaper, create monthly budgets for themselves, write a letter to a state representative, keep track of their checking accounts or finance a mortgage.

Bottom line: let’s give these kids a fighting chance. Stop cheating them out of their right to an adequate education. Stop stealing their ability to succeed. Stop un-equalizing opportunity.


10 Responses to “Some education, please, with a side of opportunity.”

  1. George W. Bush Says:

    One question. Why is it needed for one to attend a college? Surely even you can agree that college is not the proper life choice for many people. In today’s society we put to much focus on a college education. Sure it is needed for some jobs, however jobs such as janitors, factory workers, graphic designers, etc. are what makes it possible for the country to run. Books can’t be made without someone who can work the presses or design the cover, buildings will not be clean without janitors. This is why there are tech. schools and other fields of hands on training that aren’t the same as a Marquette educational process is. All of these people can do without the ACT OR SAT. They don’t need to write essays. For them a more hands on activity such as the stated ‘yearbook’ class may give them a chance to try something that they can succeed in and enjoy. If a child wants to go through the full schooling process can’t they obtain it in the way you and countless others have. Why should the government be forced to pay for everyone. So before you judge schools for not forcing everyone to try and be a doctor or lawyer think about one question. Does a college degree really help factory workers or janitors? And if so what major would best fit them?


  2. 06jk Says:

    Hey G. Dubs. I really liked your point about janitors, factory workers, etc., but graphic designers usually need a degree in graphic designing to get a decent job, especially today when that market doesn’t have a ton of jobs to offer. However, with respect to professions such as janitors, I am not saying that all need to go to college, but don’t you think preparing students with the ability to attend if they choose is a good idea? Many people HAVE to take the factory worker job because they lack whatever skills they should have learned elsewhere (And no, that is not a dump on any profession of that sort. My father is a machinist and I respect him the utmost. However, I do know that he has told me time and time again that he regrets not going to college and having a different job).

    A typical fourth grader doesn’t think about college for even a second in his/her day to day life and has no idea whether or not he/she wants to attend. Shouldn’t we still teach that 4th grader proper grammar, spelling, and math? Same thing with even a freshman or sophomore in high school. Shouldn’t we give him/her the ABILITY to get into college if that’s what he/she wants to do? What happens if we didn’t pour all that money into schools and a student decides at the age of 17, “Hey, I’d like to be an architect.” Well, getting into college without being able to succeed on the math portion of the ACT is going to be hard, especially for architecture.

    Bottom line: You are 100% correct. College ISN’T for everyone. However, I think we should still provide the skills for people to go to college if they so choose.

    And I am not sure of your educational background or in what field of study you excell, but…
    “In today’s society we put to much focus on a college education.”
    You used the wrong form of “too”….And I learned that one in 5th grade.

  3. George W. Bush Says:

    I would first like to thank you for that nice stab on my character at the end. Using that ad hominem in the end addressed nothing in the topic and can be considered a ‘cheap shot’ seeing how no one pointed out flaws in spelling or grammar in your post, but that is beside the point.

    Granted graphic designers do need schooling, however, it is not a typical four year university education as I originally stated. Graphic designers typically attend a technical school or one of the other ‘hands on’ fields.

    As for the point about not building the foundation for youth when they decide their future careers, I never claimed that we shouldn’t invest in education for children. I simply stated that it is possibly not the public school systems objective to force the idea of college and paper writing on students. I completely agree with giving funding to elementary schools in order to help younger students who have no idea what they would want to do in life learn basic ideas of knowledge. However, In the example of the yearbook class, you mention that it counts as a required class for graduation, but that does not mean it is the only class available. Students planning to continue to college should have made better choices to further the chances of that dream. If we need the government to make those choices for us, where will that line be drawn. Maybe we should have the government decide where we go to school, what job we take, where we live, who we marry, and basically every other choice that matters in life.


  4. 06jk Says:

    Yes, it is nice that yearbook is offered as a course. Maybe some are interested in something like magazine editing, and yearbook would be a great way to explore that field, but it is not an English course, nor should it count as an English credit. I have friends at this public school, and I have talked with them about things like this many times. The fact is, yes, they should choose a course that will help them toward a typical university if that is where they want to go, but they are not getting the right guidance and education to make those decisions right off the bat. Most students are going to take yearbook over British literature. There is no reason to kill yourself over a real English course when yearbook is there as an easy way out, an easy A. They don’t realize what they’re missing out on because that’s how high school students are.

    And I would also like to point out that even if one decides to be a janitor, don’t you think that person should have the math skills to do taxes in April or the writing skills to write a letter to a congressman regarding an issue for which that person is passionate?

    You also said in your first comment that the government shouldn’t pay for everyone….so do we just leave some kids out when they hit high school? “Ah yes, we need more factory workers and a couple graphic designers, so you will not need to learn math, and you will not need to write essays.” That sounds a bit like Brave New World… If nothing else, why not keep students well-rounded in different areas of study throughout their grade school and high school career? From that point they have the OPPORTUNITY to pursue whatever they wish, whether it be a doctor, garbage collector, firefighter, CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation, or a janitor.

    And I would also like to apologize for my previous jab, which was not one on your character. I tend to be extremely joking/sarcastic, and I realize that is proper netiquette because I cannot convey vocal expression online (obviously). Definitely very inconsiderate of me. I do appreciate you reading and commenting a great deal.

  5. 06jk Says:

    that is not proper netiquette**

  6. Bob Dole Says:

    Going along with the idea that laborers and tradesmen don’t need formal education – do you really believe this? Education not only expands ones mental capabilities, but it prepares them to enter a highly competitive society. The more educated one is, the more confident they will be in interviews and on the job. As society continues to advance, the people without education are being left behind more often which leaves them futilely competing for jobs. For those without at least a high school diploma or equivalent, it’s difficult to even get entry-level jobs. In time, it will only become harder.

    Also, the conclusion of the article… I agree, more money needs to go to schooling, but I don’t know about the examples…

    Road Construction – gives construction workers jobs, prevents lawsuits and accidents resulting from bad highways, makes transportation smoother for easier travel into the city to help the economy…

    Public Beautification – greener grass makes the community more attractive to prospective families. The more families that want in, the higher the property value, which will bring in wealthier families, giving more money to schools in turn.

  7. Grandma Freakin Mankawhich Says:

    Well I usually don’t comment on things like these, but I do believe education is an important aspect of society that is often overlooked for other things. As a person who is an education major I’ve learned that the government, both state and federal, has a tight grip on the country’s public education system.

    First there are ridiculous standards that school’s have to meet at the state and federal level. These standards can make or break a school, and sometimes can even place a teacher’s career in Jeopardy. What’s worse is that the test prep which the teacher’s have to teach to can take up weeks of classroom time which could be used for studying course material. This means that many teachers can become dispassionate for their subject material, which in turn can lead to dispassionate students. Fortunately you and I both went to private school’s which are not held accountable for this type of assessment. Many private schools, however, do follow this type of assessment to see where they stand.

    On the part where you mentioned that the public schools have cheated these kids out of a public education, that is true, but again some of the blame lies with the government. When tests are assessed they are assessed together meaning that every group is considered average. The special needs students, students who do not have a good grasp of English, and the average students are all grouped together and assessed. Furthermore these students are usually in the same classroom, which can be a daunting task for a teacher, who potentially could be dealing with numerous students with learning disabilities, students who have very little or nor grasp of English, and those who are just there trying to get by. The reason for this is that there isn’t enough funding or manpower(people capable of teaching special ed. students or ESL students) to separate these students in most areas into separate classes.

    So it appears all hope is lost and our students are doomed to a life of poverty and ignorance. Thankfully that is not true. According to his book, “Setting the Record Straight,” Gerald W. Bracey illustrates that test scores for every group, group meaning racial background, have been steadily rising over the years. Furthermore, he describes that the American public education system is being unjustly compared to those of foreign countries. For example, in Germany and Japan students study their asses off so they can get into a good school, if they don’t then they are usually sent to a trade school, which is not a bad things, but sometimes this can happen as early as 4th or 5th grade and students have to live with being labeled as smart or not-as-smart for the rest of their lives.

    Also for one of my classes I am required to do service learning where I mentor at a San Miguel school in the Austin neighborhood. There are two San Miguel schools, the other being in Pilsen, and they are run by the Christian Brothers. Basically these schools allow for students in the most poor areas of Chicago to get a decent education at a low price. These kids are getting a chance that many do not have, and most of them really appreciate what the teachers are doing for them.

    Some schools are also trying to do away with the pressure that comes with the ACT/SAT tests. Some schools are starting as early as kindergarten by having their students develop portfolios that they will turn in with their college applications to show the admissions how they have developed over the years and where they actually stand. I think this is beneficial because it takes away the pressure and importance of the ACT/SAT because when you think about it those tests don’t really show what the student is actually capable of.

    So to end my tangent, the American education system is by no means perfect, but it is better than those in other countries. Everyone has the right to an education and everyone can succeed if they really want to, for we should take into account that other family, friends, media, and other outside sources can have a positive or negative effect on school. We also should be thankful that those who manage to graduate high school, have the option of going to college or getting into a trade. Many other countries do not have these options. Yes the system isn’t perfect and it does have some glaring flaws, but there’s always room for improvement.

  8. mrmc Says:

    This is a very interesting thread, and all, but please tell me that you’re not having conversations with the voices in your head.

  9. 06jk Says:

    I am insulted, Mr. M. I’m a little loopy, but I’m not a TOTAL nut job!

  10. Mrs. S. Says:

    Well Jac, you are correct about basic skills. Young students need to hear the words, “When you go to college”. College is certainly not for all but the foundation of a good education is necessary for overall good citizenship. Our country needs factory workers, railmen, elevator workers, etc… unfortunatly like your father and my brother some of those careers while well paying take a toll on the body after 40. Something not thought of in their 20’s. BTW, attention is being paid to the school in your town, I am confident scores will begin to rise sooner than expected.

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