Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Education offers Salvation from Poverty

I've always performed well in school. At one time or another I attributed my academic success to many different things: my natural intelligence (until age 10), my "good genes" and family upbringing (until age 13), my parents involvement and encouragement (until age 18), my study habits (now), etc. As I mature, I realize it's a little of all of those things, but not one thing in particular. A common compliment I receive is "you are so smart" or "you must be smart". As a young child, I was honored to receive such a compliment. I thought it was an affirmation. 'I am smart. I have all of the answers. Ask me anything and I can tell you. I'm the smartest. kid in the class, smarter than all.' My being smart was badge of honor and I had a huge ego, even as a 10 year old.

In junior high, I attended a college preparatory school. Suddenly, I wasn't so smart. I wasn't the smartest in the class or room, or row. I offered as many wrong answers to questions as correct responses. My academic prowess was slipping. Plus, I noticed that I was being snickered at by the other students. (Now, this wasn't new to me. I was laughed at and called nerd. But my ego told me that it was because I was a know-it-all. I was.) But the comments weren't the playful jabbing of familiar playmates. I didn't know these kids and they didn't know me. And more importantly, I didn't know what was important to them. I knew nothing about name brands. I owed none. I had no stories to share about family vacations. I couldn't brag about my generous allowance and I had NO fancy names to drop. At age 12, I was given a first-hand lesson in socio-economic status.

I got past the snobbishness and class-ism. I did make friends. But more importantly, I learned something about life and achievement. Those 'new kids' all came from families where both parents were college graduates. Their parents were teachers, principals, engineers, lawyers, executives, advisers, and such. My folks and my elementary pals' parents were wage earners, mechanics, beauticians, truck drivers, factory workers, housekeepers, and such. I lived in a rental apartment complex. My junior high school pals lived in houses. During the lean Reaganomics years, my and my elementary pals' families struggled to keep jobs and a home.
I realized that life is different for people who have a college education.

Even today, I see that it is the poor and less educated of the world who are oppressed and abused. They have no advocates. They either don't know how or don't have the energy to advocate for themselves. I am a zealot when it comes to education. But it's easy for me to be this way; I've always loved school. My answer to everything is "go to school" or "take a class". When a childhood friend of mine was released from serving an 8 year sentence for aggravated burglary, I was there congratulating him on his release and placing a college application in his hand. I called to check on him and encourage him to go to school with me. But he didn't bite. Less than a year after his release, he was kicking in doors again and robbing people.

But, I still believe in Education as Salvation from poverty, oppression, abuse, racism, class-ism, negligence and all other ills. It is in this spirit that I recommend reading or listening to the Admittance to a Better Life by Michael Oatman, on NPR's This I Believe. He speaks so eloquently on the same subject and I join him in doing my part in trying to create a better life for myself and for others by sharing the power of education and understanding science to elevate from lower SES to middle-class.

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