Home > Life in General, Work > Education – a right or a privilege?

Education – a right or a privilege?

First – just a note that I am featured today on cookingmanager.com in an interview about food, family and all those wonderful things!  Yay for the great blog over there; I’m very excited to be featured.

Next – the real subject of this entry: Education. Or lack thereof.

As many of you know I hail from the only mildly diverse suburbia of Long Island.  I grew up in an upper-middle class home where there was money (not a lot, but some) for extras like vacations, some name brand clothes and accessories, all the extracurricular activities a child could want, and lots of recreation like movies, day trips and the like.  And for those of you who don’t know Long Island very well… it’s… well… let’s just say its pretty posh overall.  It has its icky spots (like Hempstead and Roosevelt.  Hempstead has the distinction of having the first public school named after President Obama – they have about a 98% African American population – and Roosevelt School District was taken over years ago by the state for performing way under failing) but generally, when you think Long Island, you think Great Gatsby, Billy Joel, the Hamptons, rich white Jewish kids with expensive cars, and the usual ethnic mix of middle class communities.

Then I moved to Cleveland where there is a whole other universe.

I like to think that I don’t live in a suburban community so unlike my parents’ and where I grew up.  However, the truth is that it IS quite different.  In our community, the houses might be similar but the population is quite different.  But even more of a contrast is the town/city/community that’s right up the road.  Sure if you head southeast you’ll end up in an area filled with million dollar mansions and ritzy parks and shops (Shaker Heights).

But if you head northeast about 10 mins you’ll find what I consider the worst urban blight I’ve ever seen.

Broken windows, dilapidated buildings, boarded up houses.  Rows and rows of commercial buildings vacant and depressed.  Even on the sunniest day with the most upbeat music on in the car, you can’t help but feel the greatest empathy and compassion for your fellow citizens forced to live in such a bleak environment.  Is there hope for anyone or anything there?

Well the neighborhood is East Cleveland and my exposure to it came in two forms.  One, through a drive on my way to visit a local charter school as part of my work on School Choice and two, through a Harvard alumni interview I did with an aspiring Harvard student from there.

Both experiences left me hopeful, if not seriously contemplating the future for the majority of the residents there are society’s responsibility to them.

My interviewee – let’s call him Will – grew up in a house with just his mom, surrounded by the poverty, drugs and miscreants that inhabit his community.  His mom, through tremendous foresight and sacrifice, got him involved in dramatic performance, and honestly I think that saved his life.  He went on to attend an arts magnet high school and has above a 4.0 gpa and obviously enough talent that he was recommended to apply to Harvard.  He knows what a tremendous opportunity college will be for him.  The most wrenching part of the interview – when he told me that he doesn’t want to be stuck in East Cleveland forever. I want to get out of there and make a better life for myself, he told me.

That broke my heart.  I hope this kid gets into college, Harvard or any other, and really rises up to the top.  This is a kid who has really struggled.

Then there’s my tour of E Prep and Village Prep Academies, smack in the middle of blight-city.  They are charter schools, public schools run by private companies and supplemented by donations to offer children an education that far exceeds what their public school can offer in a million years.

These kids enter school sometimes as much as three grade levels below where they should be in reading and math.  The school has a beautiful way of tracking progress.  Every 6 weeks every child is assessed.  Each child has a gumball on a hallway bulletin board.  When you’re below your grade level, the gumball is on the border of the board.  Then there are four gumball machines.  One for the kids current grade level and one for each grade level higher up to three grade levels.  After every assessment, the hope is that the child’s gumball moves one machine more to the right – and their chance for success in the world gets a little bit brighter.  By the end of one year in this school, every gumball is in a machine.  And every child is in their element.

At the public schools in East Cleveland, failure is the only thing that’s in the lesson plan.

These two experiences just brought up so many different emotions for me – gratitude for where and in what socioeconomic class I was born, and even MORE gratitude for the Harvard education I was able to receive.  I also felt an overwhelming sense of shock and confusion that in this day and age people still have to struggle to raise their children out of poverty and poor public education – something I thought had ended when my grandparents were raising their family, in a time when every subsequent generation got a little bit smarter, a little bit richer and a little bit higher in the class of opportunity America offered.  How is it part of the American dream that the free and glorious education these East Clevelanders are receiving is really worth absolutely nothing at all because the majority of students are failing and/or dropping out?

The fact that there was such a place like East Cleveland still boggles my mind.  Even more perplexing, is what responsibility I have for that community and its residents, after all it’s practically in my backyard, I’m just 10 mins up the road.  But then again, shouldn’t we think of every fellow American, nay, every global citizen as being our neighbor?

What can we do? What should we do?  Must we do anything at all?

Categories: Life in General, Work
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