Education Opinion

Spread the word: Education means justice

By Jessica Shyu — March 29, 2008 3 min read
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Question: Which of the following issues do you care about?


Answer: e) Any of the above and EDUCATION

Reasoning: If you care about any of those things, you deeplycare about education. (See below)

Before 2005, I never cared to be a teacher. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a teacher-- I liked children and I had spent some time tutoring in my day and thought teaching was fun-- I didn’t care to be one. Being a teacher seemed... lame. And unambitious. And unimportant.

I remember someone particularly intelligent told me he was majoring in education. My incredulous response was, “Why???” Sure, educating the next generation is important, but, well, not that important.

And you know what my mother told me when I told her I was joining Teach For America? She told me that if I wanted to enact change in society, being a journalist is important. Being a human rights lawyer is important. Being a doctor is important. Being a teacher is important, but not as important. It’s not glamorous, it’s not well-paying and it’s not important enough to enact real change.

Before eduholics begin verbally beating me and my mother down for heresy, I have obviously changed heart about education and cannot imagine devoting the bulk of my sweat, time, and tears to any other mission. But my former-ambivalence and vagueness about education is how many, if not most, of my peers-- even my kind-hearted, well-educated and socially conscious friends-- feel. What changed my mind and compelled me to drop an (important) career in journalism was being taught that education is about justice. Education, particularly the ghastly achievement gap between the rich and the poor, is a matter of social justice. And people in education are the social activists in this movement. Education. Is. Important.

Given that this is a teacher news site and this is an education blog and you have bothered reading to the sixth paragraph, I am clearly preaching to the choir about the importance of education. What we really need to do is compel those around us about the importance of education so the social value of teaching is on par with poverty, health care and discrimination. Because ultimately, all those issues take root in education. And ultimately, in order to close the achievement gap and achieve justice, we’re going to need to convince many more folks that education is important enough for them to devote their careers and free time to teaching, policy-making, financially-supporting (and the other countless ways to contribute).

Facts about our achievement gap:

- By the end of fourth grade, African American, Latino, and poor students of all races are two years behind behind their wealthier, predominantly white peers in reading and math. By eighth grade, they have slipped three years behind, and by twelfth grade, four years behind.

- One in three African American males will be incarcerated in state or federal prison at some point during their lives, and the rate is significantly higher for black men who do not finish high school. For Hispanic males, the rate is one in six; for white males, one in 17

- Only one in 50 Hispanic and black 17-year-olds can read and gain information from specialized text – such as the science section of a newspaper – compared to about one in 12 white students.
- Lead exposure: Low-income children have dangerously high blood levels at five times the rate of middle-class children. Lead dust exposure harms cognitive functioning. High lead levels also contribute to hearing loss.

- Vision: A poor child’s difficulty in learning to read is often caused by vision problems. Poor children have severe vision impairment at twice the normal rate. One cause is watching excessive television, which can retard development of hand-eye coordination and depth perception. Forty-two percent of black fourth graders watch six or more hours of television a day, compared to 13 percent of whites.

- Fifty percent or more of minority and low-income children have vision problems that interfere with their academic work.

For even more resources on closing the achievement gap, check out The NEA Foundation

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.