Chang: Disgraceful Disparity
By Lulu Chang, Contributing Columnist
Published on Monday, May 7, 2012
As a 19-year-old, I don’t claim to have the skills necessary to fix the world’s problems. In all honesty, as I get older, it becomes increasingly difficult even to address my own. Perhaps in the naivete and arrogance of youth lies an insatiable desire to discover solutions — like so many others in my generation, I was raised to set lofty goals. Strangely enough, while we are urged as children to take a stand, this encouragement dissipates as the complexities of the issues we want to solve become increasingly visible and harder to address.
As we get older, we gradually leave the simplicity of the binary for an uncomfortable shade of gray. The world’s actors and their actions can no longer so easily be deemed “good” or “bad.” Regarding my most recent column (“Inequity in Our Backyard,” April 24), it appears that the response was clear: My sense of responsibility did not adequately confront the entirety of a very complex social problem. My approach, while well-intentioned, did not consider the wide scope of the variables involved in education.
My surprise at the vehement responses to my column is just another manifestation of ingenuousness. I thought that in 750 words, I could adequately address an undeniable national problem to a student body that I assumed would at best take a cursory glance at my column before moving on with their busy schedules. I never could have anticipated its scope or its effects, and although the resulting dialogue has certainly served a purpose, my article stepped on toes that deserved no injury. What I seek to do is to elucidate some of the points to which I did not give sufficient attention the first time around and which were given copious amounts of attention by my readers.
I cannot claim to be an expert on education. However, my observations and exposure to public school systems during my own pre-collegiate experience have led me to believe that there is a distinct disparity between districts with differing socioeconomic backgrounds. Education is a team effort, one that is comprised of parents, students, teachers, resources and a myriad of extenuating factors that can either greatly assist or detract from the team’s overall performance.
Measuring a school’s success is not an exact science. While there exists no definitive indicator of superiority or inferiority, to assume that all schools are created equal would be both irresponsible and false. There are real differences in quality of education among different schools, and too often, they appear to parallel socioeconomic divides. But quality of education should be kept at high equilibrium, regardless of external factors. If it does not, a degenerative cycle perpetuates itself, and breaking this mold must become chief among the issues that we seek to settle when reforming our education system. It is an injustice and a disservice to the youth of America to allow such a problem to go unresolved, but the ways in which we go about addressing such a widespread issue can be divisive.
The solution to the problem may take many forms. The root of the matter seems ambiguous and difficult to pinpoint. Because of the compound nature of education, the system’s failures cannot be relegated to a single group. An attempt to do so was myopic on my part.
However, it must be said that teachers play a critical role in the development of their students. The people who have made the largest and most concerted differences in my life have all been educators. Whether they taught me in academia, music or the workplace, it was through their tireless efforts that I learned how to improve not only in their specific fields, but as a human being. Such teachers must be commended, applauded, rewarded and recognized by a society that often overlooks their achievements. And while high-quality educators certainly exist in districts all across the United States, there are also those who do not meet the same standards of excellence set forth by their exemplary colleagues.
Ill-equipped teachers — wherever they are — are an enormous disadvantage to a student body. We have an obligation to the youth of this country that includes working to give them excellence in education. This objective can only be met if teachers are given appropriate resources, training and community support. However, the community must in return have high standards for teachers and their students. Many faculty and students at Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Hanover High School and numerous secondary educational institutions around the country meet and surpass these expectations. But these standards also go sadly unfulfilled in both a regional and national context, as I saw in my school at home in Texas and as was suggested by some of my brief interactions with students in New Hampshire.
American education has many faces. These past two weeks have been a humbling and enlightening learning experience for me, but the greater issue far exceeds the Upper Valley. The problem extends across the entire country. The students of America need reform, and such reform can stem from a plethora of bases. Socioeconomic differences should not be the determining factor in quality of education. Rethinking those boundaries just might be the first step toward a better future for us all.