Yesterday I had a conversation following a job interview in North Carolina which was most interesting. The interview was with an educational establishment. The business end of the conversation was brief and pleasant. Toward the end though some topics revolving around the subject of education both as a system and on an individual basis came up. Not knowing how candid I should be in expressing my opinions in a job interview; I let the office manager do most of the talking.
What came out is that those who are most dedicated to the education of our children are disturbed on a great level. The educator in question was with a group tutoring children who were falling behind in school the most. The kids often come from single parent homes and from economic backgrounds that can at best be described as desperate. They are also often submerged in a criminal social group that leaves them with few options and less hope. The teachers of this group are paid little and asked to make great emotional sacrifices to help those most in need. Frankly though, even thought they are but elementary and middle school students, it is already too late.
I am not happy to make that statement but it is true. Some kids will grasp what is before them and struggle forward. It may be for personal pride, fear of continuing in their circumstances, or just chance. I fear though that only a minority will achieve even a modicum of educational achievement as most of us understand it. We are not talking here about getting these kids college bound. At best they may enter a technical school some day and that would be a great achievement. What we are trying to do is get an 8th grader who reads on a 2nd grade level, if they read at all, to become at least a self supporting individual. We want them to be able to take care of themselves and not be a further drain on an already overstretched society.
The look of concern on the managers face was plain. There was deep emotion in they eyes of someone who has seen the failures of not only an educational system, but of a society. Large swaths of our culture turn a blind eye to their own children. Whether this is due to economics, personnel history, social pressure, or other factors is a matter of debate. What is not a matter of debate is the fact that our future lies not only in the hands of the school student who is bound for academic greatness at an Ivy League university. It is also intrinsically bound up in the fate of perhaps millions of children who are not only falling behind in their education, but are falling behind in a fight for a basic existence with human dignity.
The pain in the eyes of the manager during the interview rending. Also there, a grim resignation seemed to be growing. As we talked further the manager shared that they had a feeling of gloom about any victory at all. A single child who advanced out of a couple of dozen was seen as a great accomplishment. What, one wonders, is the fate of the other 23 kids. The manager did not lay specific blame on any one area but did indicate a number of points in which a system and a society have utterly failed.
The fact that the Federal government now dictates standards to school systems was one. A remote bureaucrat in Washington cannot know let alone prescribe answers for the problems of a school in say, Statesville, NC or Yuma, AZ. The manager indicated the the whole idea of checks and balances seems to be dead at every level. Schools that become factories to turn out a volume of students rather than a quality of students are another. More still the fact that students are not at any point given exams to see if they really do merit and academic future in an university or a technical/trade future at perhaps another type school.
Above and beyond all this though was the fact that we have produced two, three, or maybe more generations of Americans in which the parents live only for themselves and take no real interest in their own children’s future. The worship of the self has done more to destroy families, education, and society than any economic distress. Until people can put aside their own self interest and work for the betterment of the conditions not only of their children’s economic situation but of their minds and their souls,little real hope can be had for the future.
The manager with some despair said that there is a real concern that in a few years, with perhaps millions of young people out of school and unable to take care of themselves and with little hope for the future, our country will be in dire condition. And great danger too I might add.
C L Ingram