The Birmingham News will win a Pulitzer Prize for its series "At A Crossroads" which continued in Sunday's paper (A Learning Divide). This was the 7th in a series exploring the challenges facing our metropolitan area. Sunday's installment looked at education.
Saturday evening after those awful football games four of us had a conversation about education, and came up with parental involvement (or lack thereof) and disparities in funding as the major contributors to differences in education around here. Seems we were right.
Things like expectations and goals relate to those two factors. It's easy to see how funding plays a role, as the figures are out there for all to see. So when a school can not afford computers, the kids learn (or assume) that computers must not be important in their education. You have kids like Elicia Person, a 4th grader at Gate City, who said about computers "It's not a subject, so it's not important." Compare this with Will Royer, a 4th grader at Crestline, where each child uses their own laptop, who says "Everyone needs to learn how to use a computer in order to get a good job."
Which attitude will land the child a better job, with insurance and information about health care and a healthier life?
The more one examines education and the effects it has on society, the more challenging it seems to be. The problems seem insurmountable, given the partisanship and cronyism and unethical practices and racism that we see everyday in local and state government (and boards of education).
I think the Birmingham News article did not focus on parental involvement enough. One short article that did not really examine why parents might not be involved or why their involvement is important. Many children in poorer school systems, including Bessemer, are being raised by their grandmother, or people other than their parents. These substitute parents may not have the emotional involvement to be as involved, and in the case of grandparents, may not have the energy...or may not be educated themselves, so they might not sit with the children to do math problems or read to them from the time they are born. In additon, those who are being raised by a single parent may have a parent who is working two jobs, or works an evening shift, so is not there to participate in their child's education on a regular basis. Difficult situtations to address, and I do not have the answers.
This is shameful, but I have heard from teachers that they are teaching African American kids whose parents actually discourage them from learning, telling the children it's white people's education and they don't need to learn things that will only help them work in the white world for white people. In my opinion, those parents have no business raising kids and it is just as shameful as seeing white kids at Klan rallies in little white sheets with pointed hats on their heads.
So...Max Micheal, the Dean of the UAB School of Public Health, and Huw F. Thomas, Dean of the UAB School of Dentistry, wrote a paper titled "The Roots of Health" in which they explored health behaviors and health outcomes and causes. They make a statement, "If at the dawn of the next century the health gains of the twenty-first century are to be comparable to those of the twentieth century, we as a nation need to undertake a more aggressively active role in addressing the health of all the different communities and neighborhoods that make up our larger community."
Education is one of the keys to addressing the health of communities, along with income inequality (directly tied to education) and social capital (which declines as income declines and can be tied to social mistrust)...See the Birmingham News installment in this series called Can We Trust One Another published on April 29, and mentioned in Bessemer Opinions Archive from April in part because the article included comments from Bessemer resident and Hoover teacher Erica Young.
"Every year of education children receive reduces by eight percent their eventual mortality." A person who is educated competes for higher paying jobs, with more access to health information and most likely, insurance.
"It is hard to imagine what seeds for morbidity and mortality we are planting by allowing an environment where our urban schools are graduating less than forty percent of the students."
Dr. Michael, at a forum on campus on the subject, led a discussion on healthcare focusing on the current political debate about national health care programs and insurance. He surmissed that putting the amount of money being talked about for a national health plan ($75 to $100 billion) toward education would have a greater impact on the health of America than would insuring everyone. He may be right, as insuring everyone gets them (in theory) treated when they are sick, while educating everyone (in theory) teaches them life skills and allows them to earn an income that will help keep them from getting sick.
I say "in theory" because there is little evidence to me that those of us who are educated are using that education to keep us from getting sick (or obese, for example, one huge contributor to illness). Education does not make us exercise or for the most part, eat less red meat and more brocolli. At least not yet. Seeing our reflection in the mirror or huffing and puffing when we walk up the stairs are the greater motivators to getting in shape.
But these issues, and the links between education and social capital and health are complex, and one quick fix attempt like national health care or reforms in education will not solve the problems. Multi faceted problems require multi faceted solutions.
Solution starter? Let's find $200 billion, so we can institute national health care and at the same time reform education so that all our kids recieve education that will change their lives.
(Oh, and...do away with racism... corruption ...racism... cronyism... racism... partisanship ... etc.)