Airing of Grievances: Valuing Education Edition

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.

See also:

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[.]


  1. Carlito Brigante says

    A guy who can throw a spiral 80 yards is a hero.

    And he can probably prevail in the feats of strength. Not a criticism of Festivus, however. My family celebrates Festivus every time we have a get-together.

  2. Karen Demerly says

    I know parents who are poor but value education. But some aren’t educated, so it’s intimidating (ask even an educated parent how they feel about their kid’s math homework). And if my friends living in poverty don’t have a car, or can’t pay a gas bill, guess what isn’t tops on the radar? Johnny’s essay.
    Given those circumstances, is Johnny doomed, or can we find another way to help him through?

    • gizmomathboy says

      Johnny is doomed. Especially in a state that chooses to cut education first. Well, in this case it chose to cut higher ed first since there isn’t much left in K-12.

      Never mind that tax refund we got…which would have amounted to about an extra $300 per student enrolled in K-12 public schools in Indiana.

      Never mind that we moved from a relatively stable tax base (property and inventory) too a much more volatile and harder to predict one (sales and income).

      So, Johnny is doomed even in the best of circumstances.

      Oh, this isn’t the Throwing of Random Spite? Ok, I’ll wait until the Feats of Strength to embarass myself.

  3. says

    I grew up in Anderson, and experienced much the same environment. In my case (during the 1950s), being female and Jewish were added evidence of “otherness.” Reading constantly, getting As and using “big words” just sealed the deal. Like your family, mine was solidly middle-class; unlike yours, neither of my parents had gone to college. (My father had to drop out his freshman year to support his mother when his own father died; my mother’s family couldn’t afford to send her.) But they valued education. My mother wouldn’t get pregnant until they had started a college fund. It’s still strange to me that so many people don’t value education–but it is an undeniable fact of life.

  4. Kilroy says

    It occurs to me that I am lacking the sophistication to know which side of the plate a spork should be properly placed. Time for a letter to Mrs. Manners.

  5. says

    This discussion brings to mind a quote from Kurt Vonnegut I read on the Shortridge Wikipedia entry (Disclaimer – my father went to Shortridge):

    Shortridge is known for having an unusually large number of well-known or highly accomplished alumni/ae. Among them was author Kurt Vonnegut who once said of his alma mater:

    [Shortridge is] my dream of an America with great public schools. I thought we should be the envy of the world with our public schools. And I went to such a public school. So I knew that such a school was possible. Shortridge High School in Indianapolis produced not only me, but the head writer on the I LOVE LUCY show (Madelyn Pugh). And, my God, we had a daily paper, we had a debating team, had a fencing team. We had a chorus, a jazz band, a serious orchestra. And all this with a Great Depression going on. And I wanted everybody to have such a school.

    I don’t get the sense (though I may well be wrong) that the Shortridge of Vonnegut’s time was a time and place with a great deal of wealth. But, it probably had students from the right class(es).

      • says

        The members of the “right” classes left the area. I can’t remember where they lived exactly; but part of the family lore is that the part of my family that sent their kids to Shortridge moved when to many black people moved into the neighborhood.

    • John M says

      Why would you not get the sense that Shortridge was a place with a great deal of wealth? Kurt Vonnegut grew up on Illinois Street near Butler-Tarkington, a nice neighborhood today and probably much more exclusive when all of those houses were fairly new.

      I don’t have time to fully develop this thought at this moment is that I think you are falsely equating wealth and income. For instance, you noted that your family has loads of college grads and advanced degree holders going back into generations where such things weren’t very common. That is a manifestation of wealth and privilege, even if your mom and stepdad didn’t have a terribly high income. I would note the same of a PhD candidate at Purdue. Sure, making little or nothing as a teaching assistant means a low income, but if that person had his or her undergrad degree paid for by parents then he is living off of wealth to some extent even if his annual income is peanuts right now. As I said, no time right now, but Ta Nahisi Coates of the Atlantic has written extensively about this and about how income differences don’t fully account for the difference of economic privilege between blacks and whites.

      • Doug says

        As to Shortridge – could well be because I don’t know much about it. During the Depression, if they had all of that stuff, however; I would imagine it was without the benefit of a lot of disposable cash. But maybe I’m wrong.

        On the wealth/income thing; I thought that was sort of the point I eventually arrived at. Although, instead of “wealth,” it was more a matter of social class which is often, but not always, a function of financial wherewithal.

        • mary says

          Well, this is totally anecdotal and second-hand and I may be off by a decade or two, but the “class vs. wealth thing” may be something to explore. For instance, artists are almost always less wealthy in their own time, but the value of their work grows in time, which I sort of assume mean it had a kind of wealth imbedded in it. So, the superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools was the wife of an artist named T C Steele, who happens to be very famous today. In fact several of the IPS schools display his works on their hallways today. What was it called back in the day, not class, but something else?

  6. Ananth Grama says

    So here is another perspective on your note..

    I grew up in another culture and society, which (atleast back in those days) valued education to the extreme. I went to a catholic school (not unlike WLHS), where all the parents knew who the good students were. It was a matter of considerable pride for parents to have their kids go to the top tier colleges. Colleges are, for the most part, free. The problem is, only 1 in 200 get into these colleges. I do not think any of the parents knew who the captains were on any of the sport teams; they all knew where the best kids were going to college.

    Fast forward to West Lafayette now, there is still a subculture — primarily of people of foreign origin, who track and take pride in where kids end up in college. For instance, I could tell you about all three kids last year from WLHS who went to MIT. I could not tell you who were on any of the sport teams. Guess this is why you pay a premium for being in the school district — the peer group.

    • says

      Just knowing the other kids is an advantage. The class populations are fairly stable in West Lafayette, and by the time they get to high school, my kids will have been with the majority of these other classmates for a decade.

  7. says

    The teachers here in Franklin Township are fantastic! Imagine dealing with over 100 kids a day! They cut all their assistants but the damn legislature and governor is fighting about how to teach my kids and keep cutting the funding. Having to know all their names, grading their papers and dealing with a 100 different personalities daily. Throw in the administrators demanding that you teach a certain way and the state and the federal guidelines (IEP’s come to mind) that you have to follow. Jon Easter shut down his blog so he can deal with his day (he’s a high school teacher and a damn good one because I know he used to teach at Franklin Twsp Schools) day job! Then being told by asshole parents that is up to you to educate their kids! When we have a concern with a teacher we email them or go in to talk to them and we have the evidence to back it up. They are all receptive to this and know we care! They go the extra mile for my kids because they are rarely told that they are doing a good job! There are a few bad teachers in the world but way more good ones. All I have to do is talk to the good parents to find out who they are. Doug their are one hell of a lot of bad lawyers in the world but few are ever disbarred!

    We educate our kids! There are books all over my house, videos, board games, magazines and I watch a awful lot of educational TV. We have family video night, game night, we take the kids to Brown County, Museum the downtown (it’s fantastic) library and to historial sites.

    I tell them sports is for fun because I want my kids to know that only a very small percentage of kids make any money from it. We don’t push my kids to excel at sports but my oldest pushed himself to the limit to compete and was the #1 tennis player on his high school team. We do push them in school! I tell them constantly to have balance in life and you are going to college. I tell my kids how to nurse a drink and it’s more fun to laugh at the drunk at a party then to be one! Hell you get all the girls! A 60 year old college professor (she had 10 kids) told me this in her class. She brought in business owners to explain how they run their business and what works in a business. My sister (also a teacher and then a damn good IT administrator) tell my kids to go the extra mile in your job then you can control your job and job path. We watch who our kids run with and explain that bad kids are usually the product of bad parenting. Did I mention teachers have to put up with bad kids and bad parents!

    I tell them that everyone is a teacher and if you ask a person what they no matter what they do they are proud of their job. If you ask the right questions you can learn a lot about their profession. My grandfather was the one who told be all this and his quote was ‘Everyone’s a teacher in life’ and can learn so much if you just ask them!’.

    Oh did I mention this is what my parents did, I am one of six kids and you don’t want to play scrabble with my oldest brother (a lawyer) and my sister they will destroy you!

    If the parents care the kids will be ok ! I know mine are!

    My favorite quote is “good teachers are mom’s on steroids!”

  8. says

    Shoot I can’t spell the last couple of sentences of my post should be:

    I tell them that everyone is a teacher and if you ask a person what they do no, matter what they do they are proud of their job. If you ask the right questions you can learn a lot about their profession. My grandfather was the one who told this and his quote was ‘Everyone’s a teacher in life and can learn so much from them if you just ask them!’.

    Oh did I mention this is what my parents did, I am one of six kids and you don’t want to play scrabble with my oldest brother (a lawyer) and my sister they will destroy you!

    If the parents care the kids will be ok ! I know mine are!

    My favorite quote is “good teachers are mom’s on steroids!”

    By the way we are Catholic and I attended a Catholic school up to 6th grade. I started a blog that deals with things I have taught myself over 50 plus years. Computers, investing, job skills, herb and vitamins for health , books and I could go on and on. My favorite quote is from Robert Heinlein –
    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    I believe Heinlein left a ton out but he is right,” Specialization is for insects.” and their are a whole lot of people who are insects in the world!”

  9. mike says

    “long nursed, adolescent grievances are a more important component of policy decisions than any of us would care to believe.” – See more at: — I was struck by that sentence in your article, as I have always said the Indiana Legislature is composed mostly of this type of male (High School Harry), since the district I grew up in in eastern Indiana is represented by a guy who rode my school bus, but was never in any of my classes, and frankly it was amazing he could chew gum and get on/off the school bus at the same time. I am certain he never darkened the door of any establishment of higher education, and the only reason he can be there is under the table money and a phone line that tells him how to vote, because the good ol’ boy network surely took care of some family scandal matters that in most urban districts would get you politely, at best, removed from the ticket the next go-around. Also, he wasn’t even selling insurance before he was first nominated.

  10. Stuart says

    Mike, I think that is a generally known and accepted as fact. The legislature and school boards are much more inclined to fund and support stadiums and athletic teams than they are academic success. That makes them vulnerable to confusing multiple choice test scores with learning how to think. I guess such a situation would make their heads hurt. Furthermore, the idea of being faced with an electorate that actually knows how to think that will confront demagoguery is a really scary proposition for them. Many of them seem to crave constituents who will praise them for proposing unconstitutional laws and schemes that academic experts (and attorneys) plead with them not to propose or support. Improving this situation will take longer and require more effort than most realize. Is it even do-ale?


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