Saturday, February 16, 2013

Education and the State of the Union

You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but in my husband’s and my house reading is a huge thing.  We were both bookworms as kids, and today we spend large chunks of every day reading; news, academic texts, students’ assignments, and our own writings are daily events.  We have tried to pass this same love of reading on to Kenny as well.  Dwight read to my round belly before Kenny was born, and I read him his first academic article when he was just a few days old.  Reading together as a family is a favorite pass time for all of us (we’re currently working on the Hobbit).

You can imagine our surprise, then, when Kenny entered this school year reading well below his grade.  We had tried to prepare ourselves somewhat, but didn’t expect as large a deficit as the teacher explained to us.  “It’s only first grade.”  “Expectations have changed since we were kids.”  “He’ll get it eventually.”  We had told each other all these things prior to his school start, but none of it mattered when we sat learning that our son was “severely deficient” in the subject that we considered most critical, for how can one learn harder subjects if the act of reading is difficult as well?  We both knew the research, that kids not reading well by third grade statistically rarely are able to excel the way kids reading well by third grade do.  Before third grade, kids learn to read; after that, they read to learn (using reading as a way to answer questions).  If Kenny was behind this early on, how was he going to make that first important academic goal?  (And when I say “we” I may mean “I”; Dwight might be a little more laid-back than I am, and I’m OK with that)

Fortunately for us, our school has a Title I reading program, and Kenny’s lack made him eligible.  We also heard of a reading tutoring program that Kent State was putting on, and signed him up for that, too.  We made sure to have all of our bases covered, so that he would be up to grade level soon enough.  Fast forward to now, and he’s a reading fanatic, pulling any book he feels like off the shelves at home and starting into the text.  He reads above level, and has started reading to learn a bit.  He still loves his reading club and reading tutoring, but those are now seen more as incentives to doing well than the chores they once were.

Here’s the thing, though, Ken’s school reading program and reading tutoring were both funded by federal dollars.  So when Marco Rubio- or any politician, really- gets up on his high horse complaining about government spending and the need for austerity, while acknowledging that he’s benefitted from federal spending, it chaps my bum more than just a little.  Carol Hanisch, the women’s liberation writer and activist, popularized the phrase “The personal is political” and I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment.  

I’m not against cutting federal spending, and indeed we have to cut spending as well as increase revenue; the real matter is where to make those changes.  Making budgetary cuts to education, especially early childhood education may have the short-term benefit of reducing federal spending, but it has the long-term impact of reducing and/or denying to younger generations the benefits that we had.  And more importantly, it denies the country of a well-informed, well-educated next generation, which is critical if the US to continue to be a growing, dynamic country.  Making cuts to programs that benefit children is cutting of our nose to spite our face.  

Obviously, there would be some portion of students that would continue to get the excellent education that is required to forge leaders.  The reality in the US, however, is that socio-economic status and educational opportunity is still very much confounded by race and ethnicity.  This current situation, if partnered with cuts to formative educational services, could deprive the next generation of the benefit that a diverse and well-educated leadership provides, that of multiple experiences and perspectives.  Failure to provide equitable educational opportunities to all children enshrines inequality for another generation.  

And if it isn’t the role of the federal government’s role to concern itself with equality of opportunity, who’s role, pray tell, is it?

1 comment:

  1. The political buzzword of "austerity" really gets me. It is one of those things that sounds good on paper during hard times, but doesn't necessarily play out that way. Contrary to what many politicians would like us to believe, government is not the same as a household and it is important for the government to spend more during times of a bad economy to keep money flowing within the economy that is missing. During times of prosperity is when austerity measures are important. (Many parts of Europe enforced strict austerity measures when their problems were equal to ours, showing a much worse outcome because of it.)

    And yes - as you perfectly point out - we need to educate our children more not less. We need to do it for equality, and for staying relevant in a new global economy.

    Thanks for the great post!