I had a great conversation with a friend last night about the effects of public and higher education. He grew up with friends in the Lower East Side, and was arguing that some people just shouldn’t be forced to go to school. If they aren’t motivated, and if they have no interest, they shouldn’t be forced to go to school, let alone college. He kept using the word mentality, and that you can’t change their mentality. Instead, he offers “real life experience” as an alternative to school. He believes they should be allowed to join the work force as soon as possible, and that they can receive just as sufficient of an education that way.
To some extent, I agree. Some people just aren’t fit to spend four more years at college right out of high school. Some people aren’t fit to go to college ever. I’m sure that’s partly why it’s not required by law. But I do want to point out that primary and secondary education is required until 10th grade. During that time, especially elementary school, children are greatly shaped by their educational experience.
Therefore, if we improved primary education, maybe more youth would be interested in staying in school. Isn’t elementary school about discovering things you like? Shouldn’t students have the freedom to explore anything and everything they can possibly experience without restrictions of standardized testing and grades? I understand why standardized testing exists as a measurement for funding, but haven’t we all realized that schools that score lower more the funding more?
Regardless of standardized tests and whatnot, I believe that if we improve the elementary schools (in addition to middle and high schools, of course), students will find motivation. Saying that some youth of the lower income population just don’t have the mentality to pursue higher education just isn’t right. Once we’ve given these kids the opportunities and choices and options to study something that interests them, I truly believe a good number of them will want to pursue it. And yes, there will always be some people who just don’t enjoy school, and that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s fair to assume some people have that mentality when they haven’t been given the best options possible.
Furthermore, if we just allow them to join the work force so they can make money and achieve “real life experience,” doesn’t that perpetuate the class system? Unfortunately, without higher education, most people can’t climb out of their class. I know this from watching my dad, in addition to family friends. My dad grew up in East Palo Alto, a town not known for stellar education or low murder rates. His parents valued education, but although didn’t encourage him to go to college, he did. He knew that some day, he would need a job that could pay for his kids’ educations, maintain a comfortable lifestyle, and support his parents. He climbed out of his class and ended up retiring before his 40th birthday.
Watching my dad do this has been the most affirming case I’ve seen for improving education. We have family friends who struggle to send their kids to college when they didn’t, and family friends who let their kids drop out of school and discover the value of higher education on their own. To each their own, but my point is: without improving the public education system and standards, our country will not break the class cycles.