Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Educational Inequities Can Trump College Debt Concerns
By Mark Moran

I am drowning, figuratively of course. Like many college students, a riptide of loans is sweeping me under. Loans that (despite my mastering of self delusion) will one day have to be paid back. At this moment, while the waves of debt crash upon me, it seems so very easy to play the “woe is me” role.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones. Like many students, attending private universities who are racking up a bill larger than every Spring break drinking binge bar tab combined; I am middle class. Both my parents were college educated, I went to a high school where the majority of my peers pursued a higher education, and I grew up knowing that I would one day be able to attend college. This isn’t the case for many of our nations children.

Unlike my parents and other middle to upper class parents, the word college is not in some moms and dads vocabulary. Their children’s academic experience wasn’t like mine. Many of these people’s children live in working class families; attend schools where the only thing lower than their curriculum is the graduation rate, and the idea of attending college is incondensable.

While middle class students bemoan rising college tuition, many working class students’ dreams of college are squashed years before they send out their first college application. Why is it that there is such high percentage of dropouts in lower class high schools? One reason: our nation’s educational inequity.

It is a fact that poor neighborhoods contain dilapidated schools with below average teachers, few educational resources, and a learning environment that is more likely to resemble a crowded prison rather than a school. When walking through an area, for example Brooklyn, it is obvious to anyone that as the real estate value goes down so does the quality of the schools. Why is this? Doesn’t our nation promise an equal education for all? One word: property taxes.

Public schools are primarily funded by the local property taxes, and as the value of property decreases so does the amount paid in taxes. Hence, there is less money for the education of certain neighborhood’s children. These kids never even have a chance to accrue the college debt their richer counterparts complain about because college is not a logical option. Often, these students think graduating high school is not a logical decision. Surprisingly, these kids are right.

In the book, “Savage Inequalities”, author Jonathan Kozol explains why staying in high school and attending college doesn’t make sense for low-income children. Kozol says that unlike middle and upper class students, these children aren’t worried about who they will go to prom with. They’re worried where their next meal is coming from. The need to survive often takes precedent over the desire to succeed. A child dropping out of high school to start working allows another paycheck to enter these poor families homes. Going off to college seems insane. For a poor family, the price of college is far beyond their means and the possibility of loans is laughable.

Besides the financial aspects of attending college, many of these students are not even close to the academic level of a college classroom. As Kozol writes, these children’s low academic standing is not due to any deficiency of theirs. Rather, their under-funded schools and overwhelmed teachers have not been able to keep them on the college track.

By the time a lower income student reaches high school they are often years behind. The high school they attend, which is just as under-funded and over-crowded as their primary schools, often has accepted their students’ continuation of the cycle of poverty and offers a far below average curriculum. Sadly, these kids fall to the low expectations set for them.

With an extremely deficient education and the knowledge that even with loans, college is financially not an option, like the adults around them, these kids give up on themselves.

While college students are complaining about the interest on their loans, they should be thankful that the word college is in their vocabulary. College should be an equal opportunity source of education. To do this, we need to reform the institutions that help kids get there. College debt is a middle and upper class problem it seems. The lower class cannot even convince a bank to give them a loan. Either way it doesn’t matter because their kids aren’t ready for college.

The key to success is education. This key shouldn’t allotted to a privileged few, but rather, to anyone willing to learn. Also, everyone, despite ethnic or economic background, should be prepared to receive this key. With a key in every child’s hand, our nation could really be as great as it claims to be.

No comments: