I come from a relatively low income area, and my family is no exception to the rule. At least in comparison to all of you rich Amherst kids with McDonald’s inside your house, a fleet of quads to play tag on, and your own personal roller coaster. Wait, what? You’re telling me that your lives weren’t like a scene from Richie Rich? Who knew?
Anyway, you get my point. However, I don’t want to give you the impression that I lived in a one-room hut with my six-person family and boiled and ate strips of leather in the winter to survive.
We were lucky in that we didn’t even have to worry about getting by from month to month. I never really felt deprived. That is, at home. My education, as I have mentioned previously, was lacking. This was not entirely the fault of the school district, but was rather a combination of a lack of funding and a rather lackadaisical approach to education as a whole. Students were congratulated for doing well, and were encouraged to do so, but they were not helped along that path. For example, when I wanted to take the PSAT and SAT, because I envisioned myself going to school outside of Michigan, and I asked my counselor how I should prepare for the test, she basically said, “Good luck. Let me know how it all turns out.” Not only was I unprepared for the test, I was also absolutely furious. I felt cheated by the school system, and I kept asking myself why they had to hinder my efforts every step of the way.
My saving grace in the academic world was my parents. My mother taught me how to read before I started going to school – a fact to which she credits all of my academic achievements to this day: “Oh, you got an A on that essay? Don’t forget who taught you how to read!” In a way, she’s right. It’s well known that what family you’re born into has more effect on educational achievement than most other factors. For example, children who come from high-income families are much more likely to succeed academically because they have the support they need on their quests for knowledge, be it private school, tutoring, a governess until they’re 12… In any case, my parents always stressed the importance of learning. We went to lighthouse museums around Michigan on the 4th of July. Yeah, we were that family.
Despite the importance of family to education, schools can and should be doing the best they can to educate each student and help them towards their academic goals. That does not mean passing off the lower-achieving students to the worse teachers, or telling a student that when they want to try to take the PSAT to not even bother because, “No one from this school ever scores high enough to become a National Merit Semi-finalist.” Another gem from my former counselor. She was a peach.
This was not to mention the teachers who should have never been allowed into a classroom to mold young minds. Don’t get me wrong, there were good teachers at my school. When they were good they were great, but when they were bad they were horrendous. This will continue to be a problem at schools across the country until they finally decide to reward teachers based on merit rather than number of degrees. Yes, because taking graduate level courses in biology teaches you how to teach the subject to 12 year olds. That makes perfect sense. While I realize the difficulty of measuring the effectiveness of individual teachers, it is a step that must be taken in order to improve teacher quality and the quality of education as a whole. Two different attempts at solving the problem of teacher ineffectiveness can be found here and here. While neither attempt is perfect, they’re at least heading in the right direction. Needless to say, there’s still a long way to go.