On Oprah today she did a show on how the American public education system is failing us. She started by comparing two different schools in her area. The one by her studio, or more urban area, was severely beat down and lacked things most of us probably think of as ordinary such as having instruments in the music classes. The suburban school they featured was of course just the opposite and had features like an Olympic-sized pool, fitness center, and an award winning music program. The point being to make us aware of the fact that though segregation no longer exists there still exists a great discrepancy between the haves and have nots in our public school system. Thus alluding to the fact that our “Dropout Nation” as Time magazine puts it is due to this discrepancy. Though one part I thought was interesting seemed to contradict this thought a little- they showed a well-to-do suburban school in Indiana where the drop out rate is 1 out of every 3 students mainly due to student apathy in regards to a high school diploma. Seems like such a young age to determine one’s fate in the workforce and future socioeconomic status.
As a public school teacher myself this obviously concerns me. But I think what bothers me the most is the loss of hope. Certainly instruments, better textbooks, and extracurricular activities greatly improve ones educational experience. I would never try to deny this fact. What I think the greater issue is however and the one the school in Indiana seemed to point to is that many of today’s youth just don’t care and have the lost the hope that there is a reason to. To me not caring about your education basically equates to not caring about your life…your future. Then that leads to the saddest realization of all: some of these children, possibly even in my class, do not care about their life or have a least lost hope that there is a reason to.
So what is my response as an educator? I teach in a school that supplies for students educational needs fairly adequately, much like the one in Indiana, so I’m not sure that is an issue I face personally. I think the more important issue is the unmet need of hope. But how do you give hope? How do you give hope to the kid whose family can barely afford food and never sees his parents because they work night jobs just to have the money to live? How do you give hope to the girl who has a learning disability and as a 4th grader has trouble reading 1st grade material? How do you give hope to the boy whose had CPS called to his house so many times it’s a running joke…though not the kind one laughs at.
The only answer I can come up with is love. But love is not a mere feeling; love demands an action, a response. In high school, the main people I remember in my life that gave me hope were my coaches. They showed me love by believing in me and encouraging me even when I made mistakes. They never gave up on me or let me settle for less than my best. Their love made my self-confidence sky rocket and a funny thing happened – I began to believe them and began to care more about other areas of my life too even school. Odd how that works isn’t it? How abstract things such as love and believing in someone can change their life. I mean it’s not tangible like a textbook or shiny new instrument and yet they took away a lot of despair I felt due to external factors they had no clue about. Don’t get me wrong tangible things can be greatly important and can definitely change a child’s life too, but sometimes its about something more.
So as I prepare for the upcoming school year my greatest challenge and motivation for everyday is this: How am I going to love my students today? How will I give them hope?