In 1992, Jonathan Kozol wrote a book titled Savage Inequalities, which details the consequences of unequal funding for schools across the nation. He visited schools that were flooded by sewage water and chronically short of books, school supplies and even teachers. One history teacher in a school named Martin Luther King School has 26 books, “Some of them missing hundreds of pages, for her 110 students in four different classes,” Kozol writes.
In another district, sewage flooded the playground and spilled into two schools that are responsible for preparing food for all the students in the district. The consequence was that “school [was] called off for all 16,500 students in the district,” according to Kozol. I was shocked and horrified after reading this book, and yet nothing has been done. Funding for schools is mainly based on property taxes, so children’s zip codes determine the quality of education they will receive. I was outraged by the injustices taking place in schools across America, but I was also outraged that I had never been taught about inequalities in schools before.
Until coming to college, I had no idea that there were public schools that “lack the most basic resources: classrooms, desks, books, science labs...functioning toilets and properly trained teachers,” MacLeod reports. I didn’t know that merit achievements actually have a lot to do with privilege, and now when I talk to my friends, it’s saddening that they don’t know about this problem either. So one of the main questions I have is, how do we change this? How do we get fair wages for workers, improve project housing, reduce the wage gap and make the streets safer? I think properly trained teachers can do a lot to help students, but at the same time, I think the American people as a whole need to be better educated. Politicians shouldn’t be able to stereotype all welfare receivers as lazy bottom-feeders, and the average student needs to be educated about the realities of other children in America. I learned about the Holocaust and starving children in developing countries, but I never learned about drug-ravaged, defeated American children. Students from all social classes need to be aware of the discrepancies across school curriculums, supplies, facilities and racial and social class compositions from a young age, and we shouldn’t wait until college to learn about these issues.
On Monday, April 23, I went to a talk titled “Educational Inequality,” and only 10 people showed up. We had a fantastic conversation that ranged from why there is an achievement gap between students from impoverished backgrounds and students from wealthier districts, to why Colby has such a bad retention rate for students of color. I’m an education major, so I’m very interested in why students from one social class have an advantage over others, but this is an issue that affects everyone at Colby and everyone in America.
I know many students are busy with sports, classes, clubs and lectures relevant to their majors, but I think this is a common problem we have on the Hill. People organize events hoping to discuss issues about diversity, inequality and other big issues, and no one shows up.
I know we are coming to the busiest time of the year with finals looming just around the corner, but this week is Social Class Awareness Week, and I would highly encourage everyone to try and make time to attend at least one event that has been planned.
Even if you can’t attend one of these lectures, talk about social class with your friends. Social class is often a taboo subject, and we are taught growing up not to ask how much money someone else makes. But, talk about how social class has affected you growing up and what privileges you have had or lacked. Because starting these conversations is the first step toward change.
I’ll leave you with one of the more powerful quotes from Kozol’s book: “Gifted children,” says Dr. Parks, “are everywhere in East St. Louis, but their gifts are lost to poverty and turmoil and the damage done by knowing they are written off by their society.”