Thursday, November 06, 2008


The American political and civil landscape has changed. It has changed significantly for minorities – for persons of color – but also for all young boys and girls of all races in classrooms across the country. Philosophically, things are different, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Our society gives off muddled messages for all children – a complex mixture of class, race and culture that can send multiple signals to children obfuscating their vision of the future. The idea that Education is Elitism is permeating our national consciousness stamping its sigil on our foreheads, trickling down to the youngest of these, telling them that school is not for them, that education is for the aristocrats, that book learning leads to elitism and ultimately separation from their family and heritage. Some parents systematically indoctrinate their babies with the ideology that to go beyond them, to be better than them, to succeed at a level higher than their own achievements is to abandon them and their core values.

It is a trend that I have observed even in my limited teaching experiences and it is significant in all of society, Black and White. Even our politicians have celebrated a limited and poor educational experience while simultaneously labeling the hard work and educational endeavors of aspiring students as elitism – aristocratic cake-eating – something to be shunned and degraded.

Our universities, including Missouri State University, have an entire department dedicated to first-generation college students and the unique conditions that define their family dynamics. As sad as it seems, many families’ actions work toward failure in their student, based on a fear that the student will think he is better than they, or that he will leave them, or both. They do not understand the need for study or for homework, and place unreasonable family responsibilities on the student. The push and pull of college life versus family expectations often lead first-generation students to drop out. The universities have identified the trend and have services in place to assist these first-generation college students and help them succeed.

There is hope. The origin story of our president-elect is one that defies this growing anti-educational counter culture. While his overwhelming support is incredible, his election itself was not a referendum of the education is elitism sentiment. With that said, Barack Obama’s story is one that inspires minority youth, impoverished youth, and apathetic youth that hard work and perseverance can lead to greatness and success, even for a Black man.

Young Black boys especially, but all children in general, now have a reason to break those familial traditions that may intentionally or unintentionally restrict a youth from meeting his or her greatest potential. Young Black youth have a mentor and hero to look to when they are struggling to succeed in school or in life. They can achieve what he has achieved. Girls, too, should be excited with the rise in strong female figures. Our history tells us that women’s rights usually come at the heels of Black civil rights. Their time is here.

The message from Barack Obama is one that promotes education as a foundation from which success is born and bred. Being born of a goat herder and raised by his grandparents is inspiration enough that anyone, no matter how impoverished, oppressed, or neglected can get an education, endure and succeed in this thing we call life. That is the American dream and the front of that bus is now open to all. All they have to do is buy the ticket, sit up front, and take the ride. As a teacher, it is my job to give all of my students the bus schedule, teach them how to read the map, and encourage them to hop on. But the students cannot get on unless their parents let them and in some cases, make them.

Like Barack Obama says, he cannot parent our children. He can create important legislation and stand as an icon of inspiration, but it’s up to us to turn off the television and encourage our students to read, learn, succeed and surpass us. Our children look to us for guidance and perspective. My message must be clear if I want my daughter to be able to do more than I. We must read to our children, read with our children, and impress upon them the value and importance of education. We can look to our president-elect and find reasons to promote learning and instill those values into our culture once again. To be smart and successful is not a thing to be looked down upon, it is a trait to be cherished and encouraged. Education is not elitism.


Jeremy D. Young said...

Is it possible that an organization other than the Government might have more success at helping Parents reform their views of education?

Is it possible to Educate a child against their parents' will? Do we not need programs that take in the whole of the family and reform their entire outlook on education? Can the Government or any organization do that against the will of the parents?

Jack said...


Are you commenting about the story or about another issue? I'm not sure what the will of the parents has to do with my post. (Not that it is not important.) If there is a connection, please enlighten me because I've missed it.

Jeremy D. Young said...

Asking questions about the fear of education in some families. The biggest point that leapt out to me was that some parents are not only failing to educate their children, but they are actually discouraging them from getting a good education from the government schools.

Jack said...

It should scare us all, but it should not be so surprising. We've seen the rhetoric of educational is elitism hit the national scene. It should not be that way.

I suspect this might be one (of the many) reasons that public schools are having problems. Some of the families don't care about education. Whereas 100% of the private school people do. They pay for it, so they better care.

What do we do? The goal of educators is to find ways to get students to care, despite what their families might think.

I see your connection now. Knowing some of your other posts, I thought you were going in another direction. That confused me. I get it now. Thank you very much.

Sometimes the will of the people is not in our best interests. I know that's a scary and slippery slope. So we must tread lightly. I think the folks who are backlashing against education is growing now shrinking.

Anonymous said...

I think Obama is not to blame because he has to clean up after George W. Bush's mistake. When Bush sign the Sub-Prime bill, to people who didn't have the money to pay it off, that is when companies who owned homes stopped getting paid and that is when the economy broke down. And Obama is thrown with all these problems from just one guy.