“Education.” The word that once offered promise and pride has often now become synonymous with budget cuts, Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and standardized testing. Unfortunately, one of the biggest misconceptions politicians and parents alike make is believing that a student’s education is solely found within the walls of a classroom. While learning new chemical equations and preparing for the SAT is an integral part of our lives and ultimately sets us upon a course for college and beyond, the experiences and interactions amongst classmates and teachers define us as human beings.
As a product of the public school system, I recognize and am thankful for the quality classroom education I have received since kindergarten. However, cliche or not, I am more appreciative of the life lessons I have learned, which have shaped me into the person I have become.
Perhaps most important have been my experiences with diversity in the school setting. As a white student in a public high school of almost 2,800 kids —comprised of 41% Black, 34% Hispanic, 22% Non-Hispanic White students, of which many come from some of the most affluent and poorest neighborhoods of Miami—I am a minority. Over four years I have noticed that more black students tend to buy school lunch while white students bring packed lunches from home; The Advanced Placement Program is predominately one race; only certain students can afford to drive to school. And, in light of recent events, many of these racial separations continue to grow:
Trayvon Martin attended my school.
Although I did not know him personally, he was a part of my high school and has visibly influenced my school’s community. A number of students wore “I am Trayvon” t-shirts, it was not uncommon to overhear white students trash him, and I answered the phone in the activities office numerous times to press demanding comments. I was most disheartened when I came to the realization that regardless of one’s opinion of Trayvon or whatever one’s views were on George Zimmerman’s verdict, our school could not fully come together and realize that, at the very least, we lost a member of our school.
And then I realized that in many ways this was a microcosm of what was and is going on across America.
We, as students, come from different neighborhoods, backgrounds, races, and religions, but for six and a half hours a day we are supposed to be one school community. More often than not, we do not achieve this goal. If we cannot figure it out here, if we cannot get along and work together to see beyond color and socioeconomic status — what happens when we move beyond the walls of a school? Offices of diversity and minority affairs exist on college campuses because for whatever reason the “Office of All Students” is not encompassing enough verbiage. Why can we not see each other as equals? How will we change cultural norms and break this unforgiving and unforgivable cycle? Or are we simply destined to repeat history?
Even more shocking is that hard statistics support this claim: as a national average, 19% of students fail to graduate from high school. However, the numbers for underrepresented, minority, and economically disadvantaged populations show that 32% of African-American students and 24% of Hispanic students do not complete the 12th grade.
Thus public schools today now face a major conundrum: being forced to conform to national and state standards for excellence in the classroom but in the meantime having to find ways to overcome issues of diversity within their student bodies. While putting the pen to paper to improve United States students’ education and our competitiveness on a global scale is a necessity, it is often forgotten how important the information that is not tested truly is. While Brown v. Board of Education disallowed for the idea of “separate but equal”and the efforts of desegregation started to make an impact with nine students in Little Rock, Arkansas, many of the same travesties from the 1950’s still exist today in 2014.
So now what? How do we move beyond race, ethnicity, gender, culture, and any of the numerous differences that influence us in failing to come together in the pursuit of a better education? Consider the question the amazing educator Diane Ravitch has posted: “What if we thought of schools as if they were akin to families? Then we would work to develop school cultures that are collaborative and supportive… If we do, we will not only have better schools, but a better society, where people help one another instead of finding a way to beat out their competitors.”
Change needs to begin within student bodies across America. As is often said, we must think globally but act locally. Only then can we evoke the change necessary: one community, one high school, one college campus at a time. We don’t have to agree, but we must communicate and nurture to thrive. During segregation it was forced; today it is all often by choice. But now, it is our job to challenge our environment, transform our thinking, and move our community forward.
Crouch, Ron. “The United States of Education: The Changing Demographics of the United States and Their Schools.” Center For Public Education. The National Schools Boards Association, May 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.\
Stetser, M.C. “Public High School Four-Year On- Time Graduation Rates and Event Dropout Rates: School Years 2010– 11 and 2011–12.” NCES, U.S. Department of Education (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 21 May 2014. <http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014391.pdf>.