Money and Education

Educational Privilege is Everyone’s Problem

We could go on for days about the numerous problems that the American education system poses for all students, everywhere. Testing, funding, availability of qualified teachers, motivation, school day length, school year length, food options, guidance, parent-teacher communications, the list goes on. But there is one underlying theme through all of this: money.

The easy solution would be for more money to invest in the whole education process. Dare to dream, right? Because what does that really mean to give everyone enough money? That everyone gets a chance to be on the same level.

But here in the real world we are not all on the same level, and the fact is that the more privileged a person is, the more likely he is to succeed. And the most disheartening thing about that fact is why isn’t this more of a big deal? It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but I think that I (and others like me) are a significant part of the problem.

My middle-class upbringing allowed me to be a part of the privileged group of American students who could a.) graduate high school and b.) attend college. I wouldn’t say that my family is well-off, but we do have enough to get by, and that allows me to forget how much of an advantage that is. I don’t have that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality on purpose, but because poverty wasn’t something that directly affected me, I was able to live my life without worrying about it.

My high school was a very blended public school with both students from middle class families and those from poorer homes. And you could tell who was who by how we dressed, or who we hung out with, or what classes we took, or what was the most important thing to us in that building. Is that student only there because they don’t want to get called in for truancy, or is that student there to learn?

Most of my classes were in the high achievement track, meaning that I was on the same basic level as the “gifted” students, but without the official test result; I was smart enough to be cared about by the administration. Most of my day was filled with advanced classes with people like me on the social hierarchy. The only time I interacted with students of other economic backgrounds was during lunch and elective classes. And after thinking about it, I remember feeling like I didn’t have to try as much during my electives because not everyone in those classes cared as much. Even the teachers seemed to teach and grade differently, like they had to dumb down the lessons to a slower pace to accommodate everyone. But once I was done with those elective classes, I went back to my advanced classes without a thought as to what those other students were learning.

Because I didn’t have to deal with things like wondering when my next meal would be, or when a family member would come home, or where I would be living and who with, I was able to focus on school. But there are millions of students out there who do have to worry about it, and on top of that are expected to care about their education as much as I did? I can see why school tends to come second for lower-income families; I would certainly put my livelihood first if I were in their shoes because it was the only life I would know.

So why am I a part of the problem? Because I wasn’t exposed enough to the problems of some of my classmates, I didn’t care enough to do anything about it, and my middle-class complacency has only added to the issue. Not that it was my job as a teenage student to care about the well-being of everyone in my class, but as an adult, it is my job to note the differences in socio-economics when it comes to education. And it’s sad to say that up until this point, it seems like I haven’t done a very good job.

So is there a way that we, collectively, can make up the differences in economic status when it comes to education? Is there a way to solve the educational privilege problem without relying so heavily on money?

Tracey Woodard
Tracey Woodard
tracey.woodard@franklinfound.org

<p>Our Senior contributor Tracey Woodard graduated in 2010 from Bucknell University with a BA in English – Creative Writing and Theater. An advid believer in the importance of public school education, she uses a mix of personal and learned experiences to express her thoughts on today’s most pressing education issues. She currently resides just outside of Philadelphia, PA.</p>