What changes do we need to make in our thinking and treatment of others in our school and community to achieve a better society?
Bainbridge Island is a great place to live and raise a family. I’ve seen very little overt racism in this community in the five years that I’ve lived here. Yet there is one huge division that exist within our school that, as a society, I believe we need to face head-on. There is a marked difference in opportunity between different socioeconomic groups at the school. There is a vast inequality between the have and have-nots on this island. I believe we can achieve a better society by narrowing educational inequalities in island children.
The first step is understanding that these inequalities exist. It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race. Success for every child should be based on nothing but the contents of their mind and heart, not their bank accounts.
Doing well in high school isn’t enough to get to the next level, college. Affirmative action is all but dead in United States universities. Lost in the debate of affirmative action is a simple fact, income not race, is a real determining factor in higher education today. Millions of kids are not attending college. Not because they are unqualified, but because they simply cannot afford it. Families that earn in the top 25% of income in the United States send 80% of their children to college. Of the bottom 25% of income earners in the US less than 10% of the children go to college according to USA Today College Planner. Family income is the new predictor of a child’s future achievement. Education should be the great equalizer in American society. Education can lift less advantaged children and improve their chances for lifetime success as adults. The achievement gap between rich and poor is the new racism in the United States.
Why are children from privileged backgrounds more successful in school? Why do these advantages persist over time? These are complex moral dilemmas. Over time, cultural and social differences combine to preserve privilege across many generations. Unequal school financing across school districts is also unfair.
There are major advantages for students from wealthy Bainbridge island families with more economic resources. Wealthy parents can invest more time and money in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors and weekend SAT prep classes. As kids get older parents try to position their children for the best colleges, which is even more essential for success in today’s economy.
What can we do here on Bainbridge Island? I believe Wi-Fi should be free all across Bainbridge Island. Every child should be handed a take home computer in seventh grade. Offer free tutoring in math and English at every level. Hire twice as many student advisors at the high school. These small steps are both practical and will yield huge benefits down the road. The United States, as a whole, needs to find a way to make college more affordable for everybody.
“...The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.” From a speech given by Martin Luther King on March 14, 1964, when he accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers.