Barack Obama makes me feel like a natural woman. Especially this morning.
I’ve been preaching for years that education funding should not be locally funded. If our goal in education is to equalize opportunity, it makes no sense to let poor kids in poor areas go to poorly funded schools and rich kids in rich areas go to lavishly funded schools. (I say this, ruefully, as a child of one of the richest counties in America. People there were willing and able to tax themselves like crazy to give me a great education.) This additional federal funding is one more step toward equalizing some shocking gaps. If it comes with additional federal oversight, I have faith that it could be worth the annoyance.
And adding funding to Pell Grants? I can’t imagine a better investment in our country. Of course we should fund the college education of people with drive and skills but no money! My fear about educational inequality is that some kid somewhere is born with the brains and creativity to cure cancer, and instead of going to med school, the kid is changing my oil at Jiffy Lube. (Yes, very honorable work, but inappropriate.)
Equal opportunity is not about compassion, or fairness, or any touchy-feely stuff like that. It’s about cultivating the knowledge and talent we have in our country. We’ve got to build up what we have. (And incidentally, I don’t think anyone’s going to reject that cancer cure if the lead researcher was an illegal immigrant’s kid.)
People from all over the world still come to the U.S. seeking education. The fluidity and creativity cultivated by our educational system are unrivaled. (To those people who felt stifled by their American education, I have to say: at least you weren’t born in Europe. Or Asia. Or Africa.) The government here doesn’t control your major or your track in high school, and your studies here aren’t all about memorization and obeying authority. That’s our weakness, but it’s also an incredible strength.
Americans are a wildly creative bunch. We might lag in math and science right-and-wrong tests, but we invent things like nobody’s business, gobble up and regurgitate everyone else’s languages, and mix cultures without killing each other a whole lot of the time. Also, we’re good dancers. That’s just my opinion.
Finally, merely because I have been brainwashed to think in threes: does Obama’s election really change anything? Could having a black president really influence ideas of race in a meaningful way? If I hadn’t seen these researchers’ theories in action myself, I would think they were silly. Here’s what they found: the black-white achievement gap disappeared in two sets of tests that was administered before and after Obama’s election. I know. It sounds nutty. Again, touchy-feely, self-esteem worksheet crap. Still, on my final exams, I always have students (all of mine are African-American) write something positive about themselves before they start the questions. How silly. Or maybe not.
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What a great idea – getting your students to write something positive before they start the paper!