Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Towards Greater Equality

Yesterday evening I experienced something that has caused me to think a little and I'd like to share my thoughts and then have you respond with any and all ideas that come to you while you read this post.

Deb works at one of the local grade schools. She has made friends with a number of the children and sometimes will come home with the announcement that we should go to a play, or a music program, or a science fair to show support for these kids.

Last night we went to the science fair. Children from all over the district gathered with their cardboard displays to show off their talents as budding young scientists. It was fun to see a number of the same old projects being done back in my day and to see a number of genuinely creative experiments.

It was really easy to spot the displays that probably had a lot of parent involvement and represented a higher socioeconomic status. They were crisp. The written portions exhibited good grammar and clarity of thought. Most of the experiment titles were very clever.

Then there were the displays done by children who likely had little, if any, parental assistance. They were poorly organized, sparing in details, and often indicated that English was the students' second language.

When it came to the awards ceremony, I watched as at least two prizes went to children whose fathers are university professors; I know because I know their fathers. I'm not saying that their fathers did the work for them, so I'm not crying foul play. I'm talking about a much bigger problem.

I left the science fair grateful that Deb and I both have college degrees. We'll likely give our children better educational guidance than we would otherwise have been able to.

But parents without much education, or parents who don't speak English, or parents who don't take an active role or interest in their kids' schooling will many times watch as kids from better educated, more affluent families take home the prizes from the science fairs.

Here are the questions I'd like us to discuss:

How do we level this playing field?

How do we diminish or eliminate this disparity?

What can we do to help others help themselves and their own families?

What did your parents do well to help you on your way to educational and eventual career success?

I'll start our discussion by posting the first comment. Please, I'd like your feedback.


Nate said...

I am a firm believer that America is a land of opportunity, that the person who works hard enough can overcome just about any obstacle and achieve his or her dreams. That's the idealist within me.

At the same time, however, my inner realist reminds my inner idealist that there are lots of children living in homes where one or both parents don't speak English, where one or both parents have little university level education, where the family finances are so meager that college will be a near impossibility for those children.

I feel that the solution is in reaching the parents, in offering parents more education or language or vocational training to decrease the socioeconomic disparities they face, to encourage parents to take a more active role in their kids' education, to encourage parents to read to their children, and more.

But this is only one solution. What are your ideas?

tpmotd said...

Here's a really good presentation I saw recently that addresses just what you're talking about.
It also includes at the end some suggestions for how to change and influence the systemic issues.

heather said...

I'd also suggest mentoring. Have those university professors spend an hour a week with an ESL child working on their science fair project, their English homework, etc. Give the children one-on-one exposure to people who have succeeded in the system and can guide them towards educational opportunities, help them get scholarships, teach them how to hold a good job, etc.

JoJo said...

I think Heather's idea is great. I wish I had the enthusiasm to change the world, because some people do and can. But I do have the enthusiasm to help here and there where I can. I think if those of us who are aware (or become aware by reading blogs) make an effort to be a mentor or offer help in an area of their specialty a lot of good can be done.

Nate said...

Steve, I'm still going through those slides but I'm intrigued.

Heather, I'm totally with you and as an aspiring college professor I hope I can do something like you've described. Even if we all didn't get PhDs we probably all have something to offer by way of mentoring children.

Jo, you're so right. If we would simply look in our own communities for ways to help and then do something, together we could accomplish a lot.

As an illustration of what I'm getting at, here is a snippet from the Freakonomics blog. It's written by a Yale law professor, a lawyer with a PhD in economics from MIT.

"...I have forced my kids to get up at ungodly hours to study in the morning. We have been doing 'daddy school' in the morning and during the summer for years. When my 7-year-old daughter said she desperately wanted a dog, I told her...she could have one if she published an article in a peer-reviewed journal. And then we worked together on a family statistical project for more than two years to make it happen. Our dog is named Cheby (Shev) in honor of a statistician."

I have a hunch that this guy's kids are not inherently more intelligent than a lot of our underprivileged kids in the US. But what his kids get is a lot of attention from parents who have gone the rounds already and can give the kids a leg up on things.

Katie said...

We talked about this in depth in my Current Social Problems class last semester. The professor had us write up a report on where we are in life and how much of that is due to the efforts of others (mostly parents) and how much of it is do to our own selves. Pretty much I owe my situation in life to my parent's education and their strong involvement in my education.

As for leveling the playing field, I think I huge part of the inequality in education is how it is funded. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods get more funding, are better supplied, and produce better prepared students. I don't think funding for public should be based on community. I think all education tax dollars should be pooled and then distributed equally. That way the schools in taxation regions of the rich and the schools in the taxation regions of the poor are equally funded.

Josh Keanaaina said...

I was one of the kids who had a woefully inadequate science fair project. Probably due to a mixture of my parents being busy and me not really pursuing their help. Though, I personally love to learn and discover new things, I feel that this science project isn't the best example of the actual education I gained. And so I hesitate to jump to conclusions about real opportunity vs. laziness or attitude about education based on one incident within the whole system. Especially, since my little brother had one of the best science fair projects known to man and hates to study. Being forced to study- as the girl in your example was in order to get what she wanted- isn't guaranteed to work in all instances. All kids are different. All people choose to do differently with what they are given.

For instance, I have several family members who barely finished high school and hate even a mention of emphasis on secular learning, who are more successful and established than any of the rest of my family who pursued secondary degrees in high paying fields. They also enjoy a more stable family situation than those others, despite having had difficult family situation themselves.

I am not saying that problems are not present in our system, but that observation of a single incident within the educational system cannot predict success or failure or the perpetuation of those future outcomes.

I do feel that a good influence towards education tends to lead to well-rounded citizens, but I have also met crazed secularists who don't share a shred of decency with the vilest of the vile.

The underlying reasons why someone does what they do are a better indicator of how successful someone will be in life and beyond. I feel that the way you approach challenges and hardships, has more influence on what you are going to accomplish than the amount of opportunities you get to use your education. Things like hope, charity, and love are more powerful than the ability to describe the theory of relativity.

Success in life isn't based on the prizes you attain in life or your ability to find out more than previous generations about science, math, or technology. It's about being the best person you know how to be and passing that on to others.

A gospel-focused (and therefore family-oriented) solution would be the most effective way to extend success to all people. The city of Enoch was able to create The ideal society by first eliminating poverty among its people-both the physical and the spiritual types, secondly by coming under unity of purpose (to serve God), and finally by everyone's commitment to personal duty and worthiness.

Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, combined with the perfecting of the those who accept it, is one of the only ways in which such equality could be perpetuated. Though this process can be quite lengthy if not adequately pursued.

In the short-term, getting those who believe in Christ to first act is one of the biggest steps towards this end. Though seemingly the hardest to accomplish, I believe, because the outcome is complexly related to personal choice and accountability.

Nate said...

Thank you all for your comments. They've given me a lot to think about and to strive for.

Katie, I agree that we owe a lot to our parents for where we are now. And I wish that more of our tax money went to education. Period. Across the board, but especially for those who need the money most.

Josh, I was also one of those who had lousy science fair projects, but it wasn't because I was particularly interested in lice. OK, lame jokes aside, I'm not trying to jump to conclusions either, only open up some discussion. I do think that if there were greater parent involvement and interest in kids' educations the children would be better students.

Steve, I've been through all the slides now and found them very interesting. Segregation is something we don't hear about much any more. Can you share some more of your thoughts on this presentation that you went to?

Deb said...

While having a great 5th grade science fair project is by no means the most important factor determining future success, I do think this is a good illustration of the disparity in opportunity among people.

Many of those who have an opportunity to get an education, don't and many of those who could do incredible things with such an opportunity never get to. There is so much lost potential in these opportunities. Potential to learn, grow, and serve, to become better informed citizens and consumers.

The power of education is incredible. It is not a requirement for successful, rich life, but it is a wonderful opportunity to share ideas, expand your mind and develop talents.

I love the idea of volunteering at elementary schools, community centers, mentoring and even adult education courses. Those of us who have been blessed with great opportunities for education can do so much to bless others' lives.

Josh, you hit it right on the head in talking about how the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to leveling the playing field. If we could all show charity to our brothers and sisters all around us the way that the Savior did, looking to serve others instead of ourselves, we could easily eliminate poverty.

Pres. Benson said "The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums."