Monday, November 1, 2010

Gaps in American Education

Strong relationships are the foundation of a healthy education. In order for a child to be successful in school, they must be inspired and encouraged to do so. This evening I attended a lecture on “Social Justice in Education” by a delightfully eloquent Dr. Pedro Noguera. This man has focused his life into improving the quality of education of underprivileged children. He said that the quality of a child’s education was based exclusively on his or her family’s income and the level of his or her parent’s education. He said that the only thing that enabled him to go to Brown University was ‘luck’. He doesn’t have a larger mental capacity, but he was born into a family that was wealthy enough to pay for proper education. The biggest issue in America’s education today is poverty. While wealthy children are given an abundance of great opportunities, poor children need to find incentive to gain an education. Wealthy kids with learning disabilities are given the tools they need to become great in an accepting environment. On the other hand, poor children with the same problems run the risk of becoming failures if they resist help. Without a proper education, financial support, and family guidance, these people are faced with the dangers of poverty. Some are involved with drugs just to provide for themselves and their families. They may end up behind bars because their teachers didn’t care enough to encourage them.

Throughout this inspirational speech, Dr. Noguera urged everyone to take action and not just speak or write about progress of school districts. He proved that it is possible with the examples of the “Cinderella story” schools. These schools are located in poor cities with poor inhabitants. A school district with these characteristics is destined to fail. As I said earlier, poverty is the most prominent educational issue in America. 1 in 5 American children are below the poverty line. Quite a shocking statistic coming from the richest country in the world. Dr. Noguera addressed this problem by adding that not only is there an opportunity gap, but also an allocation gap. The U.S. is spending too much money on wealthy children’s education and not nearly enough on the poor. The schools who have the lowest quality of education are also the ones who teach the poorest children. These are the institutions that face the greatest challenges and have many needs that are usually disregarded. Governors try to improve education by threatening teachers or shutting down schools that don’t meet their “standards”. They put up a facade of these idealistic policies but they do not address the reality of the situation. Dr. Noguera stressed the importance of learning over testing. Some schools only prepare their students for tests that affect the image of the school. They should be providing the students with an education that will lead to the students’ success in the future.

Dr. Noguera stressed that devoted teachers are a necessary part to improve the education issue. The children need strong guidance and leadership. This reminded me of Bharati Mukherjee’s “A Father”. In the story, Mr. Bhowmick, idealizes a patriarchal family yet he is unable to be the leader of his family. Because of this, his family erupted into turmoil at the end when his daughter revealed her pregnancy. He did not have a close relationship with either his wife or daughter. Just like schools need teachers to guide their students, families need parents to guide their children. Without these relationships, they are both unable to grow and prosper.

Towards the end of his speech, Dr. Pedro Noguera said, “I’m an optimist, but I’m not a naive optimist.” He knows improvement of America’s school systems is not going to happen all at once. Baltimore has some of the worst school districts in the United States. He believes we have the capacity and resources to create great schools; we just need the will power and fervor to make it happen.

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