Festivus is approaching fast, and, rather than waiting for December 23, I thought I’d get one off my chest. Various discussions have reminded me that I harbor a good deal of resentment from my youth as a smart kid in a community or social setting where I did not feel like intellectual accomplishments were particularly valued. My parents definitely valued education, and the community at least nominally paid lip service to the value of good grades. McDonalds even gave me a free hamburger for getting “A”s. (Well done, kid. You’d better get good grades and get a good job to pay for the insulin you’ll need from the diabetes our food is going to give you!)
But, when I see someone struggling in life because they didn’t get a good education; there is at least some part of me that sees that person as the 12 year old asshole classmates of mine who teased me relentlessly for using big words. Eventually, I learned to dumb down my speaking patterns and navigate middle school social circles, but the message was clear. A guy who can throw a spiral 80 yards is a hero. A guy who can use language with precision is an object of scorn. That message is reinforced when the discussion at family gatherings is more apt to be the latest high school basketball phenom than anything to do with intellectual achievement.
Sure, this is all decades old water under the bridge, but I’d hazard a guess that long nursed, adolescent grievances are a more important component of policy decisions than any of us would care to believe.
One issue that raised this in my mind was a discussion online surrounding the forthcoming Rise Above the Mark film developed by West Lafayette School Corporation. The goal of the film is (at least to my understanding) to change the approach to education reform.
“We’re using the wrong kinds of reforms,” [WLSC Superintendent Rocky] Killion said. “What it’s doing is driving everyone down to mediocrity as opposed to lifting up and allowing us to go further.
The Twitter discussion had one friend quip that the message of the film would be a single card that said, “Don’t let poor people into your school.” I responded that this wasn’t entirely the situation with West Lafayette schools. For example, grad students aren’t wealthy, but if you stack your schools with parents who value education, your school is bound to do well. Another friend noted the importance of distinguishing between wealth and class. While grad students aren’t wealthy, they are of the desirable class. Which leads me to wonder what the roots are of these non-wealth based class distinctions.
Growing up, my folks did not much share details about our financial condition, so I don’t know exactly how much wealth we did or didn’t have. I’d say we were pretty well in the middle of the middle class during the bulk of my childhood. My impression is that my step-dad rose up the ranks at his company and ended up being pretty successful; but during the days when there were five of us kids in the house, I can’t imagine there was a lot of money flowing through. Not that we felt particularly deprived or anything; but, while we didn’t start the day hungry by any means, we also weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.
Even if I didn’t have a distinct advantage of wealth, however, my family was lousy with college degrees. Mom had a master’s degree in education, I believe. Dad had a bachelor’s degree. My father had a law degree. His father at least went to IU, and I know his great uncle was a lawyer who help compile the Indianapolis City Code back in the early 20th century. Grandpa (on Mom’s side) was a doctor of osteopathy. I think Grandma had a masters in fine arts. I didn’t realize that this sort of thing wasn’t necessarily common until later. Even most of my close friends growing up came from families with college educated parents. And it’s not just education. My speech patterns reflect the prevailing upper class patterns. As a young kid, I was taught little things like which side of the plate the fork goes on and where the napkin goes. Just by personal preferences, I can be pretty uncouth at times; but, when the situation demands it, I’ve been given the tools to navigate the upper social classes. And, of course, I’m passing all of these things along to my own kids.
Which brings me back to West Lafayette Schools. Some of this class stuff is fairly incidental. Cole is awfully fastidious (see what I did there?) about his table settings, but WLCS isn’t going to struggle if Harper puts her spork on the wrong side of her school lunch. However, without their teachers doing a thing, my kids came in with a pretty solid base line education; they came in knowing that education is important; they have been conditioned to be reasonably respectful to authority figures such as their teachers; and they just honestly enjoy school. Stack your school with kids like that, and your school will excel, almost regardless of what kind of teachers you have in there. Stack your school with kids who will make life tough on another kid for using a five syllable word, and the situation will get choppier.
However, soaking in the kind of class privilege that I have does make it hard for me to understand at a visceral level what’s so hard about infusing your kids with a value for education. Every parent has to know it’s important. But, I guess if you haven’t internalized that fact, your kids are going to hear you saying that school is important once in awhile whereas they will see you if you are spending much of your free time watching sporting events and not reading a book. Nominal lip service to the idea just isn’t enough.
Indiana’s revenue in November fell short of projections, so Gov. Mike Pence said today that state agencies and higher education funding will be cut back[.]