Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Waiting For Superman

I think about where I am now in my life and the quality education I received that propelled me to it. I feel that from elementary schools to colleges and technical schools, the quality is just declining. I know it sounds a bit out of place, coming from someone who never actually attended college—but I've heard real stories about real students at real schools. The fact of the matter is that our society as a whole is encroaching upon a full-blown standard of entitlement. Children expect to have the newest technology and hottest fashion gear. They are turning to expensive gadgets and botox and YouTube fame to define themselves. Young adults expect the working world to hire them based on their "cool factor" as opposed to legitimate knowledge and experience. Having worked at a school where academics were touted as being valued, meanwhile a quality education for them to even be able to write complete paragraphs was absent, caused me to challenge myself as an educator. And older adults expect those younger than them to stop advancing and growing. They want to continue to be respected as being wiser and more-experienced, meanwhile refusing to learn new ways of doing things.

I know it will sound silly to you that I say this (or maybe it won't), but I think about the education system often. Mainly because I think of my niece every day. She is currently growing up in an area of the city where education is not valued as much as a quick dollar is. Most children who attend Vanessa's school, will not graduate. The streets, the culture, and the apathy invading her neighborhood will give her a slim-to-none chance to graduate high school much less pursue a successful career. And if those factors weren't enough, the logistics of the school systems are the big kicker. Schools are financed in part by the taxes of the area the school is in, which means that lower income areas (which hers is), pay less in taxes, so their schools get less money. That means less resources and underfunded staff, which results in a devil-may-care attitude school-wide. I do, however, have hope for her and for the kids in her school to push past the stigmas of society and the cycle of living in a low-income area, to actually succeed. I know it's possible.

I grew up in an apartment near the Rundberg area of Austin. Most called it "The Burg." The Rundberg area (and East Austin) had been known by the city as a high-crime sector with a high-dropout-rate when I was younger. Growing up, our apartment complex looked great on the inside. It had some semblance of a backyard (which was actually just a high-fenced porch) for each apartment and there was a pool for the kids in the apartment—although most of the time we were at the pool, we were admiring all the tattoos that the neighborhood kids were giving each other with burnt needles and ink. Most of my evenings were spent on our back porch with my brother and his friends who would experiment with drugs and pyromania. Our neighbors were dealers, porn distributors, and working girls. Most people will ask me why I don't like guns, and the truth is, "right and wrong gun shots sound the same." Our neighborhood was constantly patrolled by cop cars and it wasn't out of the ordinary to have neighbor kids come over because their parents weren't home—my sibs and I grew up latch-key kids ourselves. I'm not saying that if that happens, kids will be messed up—the rest of the story gets better.

We were lucky enough to be able to use an alternate address to get into the zones of better schools. I got to attend some really great schools. When I was a kid I went to Brentwood Elementary and I was given a QUALITY education. My teachers taught me to treasure music, arts, and the written word. I fought to have my recess time be spent completely in the library learning about the Underground Railroad, and the Titanic, and the Holocaust. I loved every minute of class time because I was learning, I was imagining more and more things, I was able to approach my teachers if I had a question and I knew they'd be ready to answer with a gracious tone. I LOVED being a Brentwood Bulldog!

When it came time to decide on what middle school to go to, I was given the option. I could either go to Burnet Middle School or Lamar Middle School. I had been to Burnet Middle School before for one of my brother's basketball games and knew that it was going to be one of my options in the future. It was shortly after the time that the Yogurt Shop murders happened. During his game, I took a walk around the school area and I remember seeing the memorial headstone structure for one of the victims in the courtyard. All I could think was, "Why would I want to go here?" So I didn't. When it came time to choose, I chose to go to Lamar Middle School. While I was there, I participated in Pep Squad and took classes in Theater, Video Production, and Choir. These classes are a pretty major part of my education and who I am today.

The school that Lamar "fed" into was McCallum High School. I was once again given a choice by my mom to pick which school I wanted to go to—McCallum, or Lanier (which we lived 5 blocks away from). Again, when I was younger, Lanier did not have a good rep. It was known as a school for less fortunate students. Kids I knew that attended Lanier spent the majority of their time in gangs and working the streets to get extra money for food for their families. I chose to go to McCallum—partially because I'd known people who had gone there, also because both my parents had graduated from there, and because it was the Fine Arts Academy in the AISD system and I wanted to be a part of that (and I was)! I got to participate in Theater, Tech Theater, Songwriting, Colorguard, and Winterguard. I got to travel with our band to Disney World and Hawaii to march at Epcot, and to New York City to play Carnegie Hall. I got to experience the world on an entirely different level.

I realize that no matter what school you send your kids to (whether you homeschool or not), the effectiveness depends on your student's resilience to the peer environment, their desire to learn, parent interaction, and the quality of education they are receiving. Most reading this have seen To Sir With Love, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, or at the very least, Take The Lead, so you KNOW it's possible for the "less fortunate" kids to have teachers in their life who DO make a difference. But after watching the trailer for the documentary Waiting For Superman and hearing stories from friends who are teachers, it leaves me distraught about our current education system but also renews the hope in me that a brighter future for kids is possible.

As I hear stories of Vanessa growing up, I can't help but want the best for her. I realize that having her live through my same experiences may not be the best thing for her, but the opportunity for her to challenge her mind and to grow in her talents is. As a supporter of quality education and as a believer that there are still ways that we can get involved in joining with local schools to improve a child's educational experience, I would encourage you to go see this movie. I rarely watch documentaries, but this is one I could not avoid if someone held me at gunpoint . . . okay well maybe that's a bit extreme, but I'm definitely going to see it!

For more information on Waiting For Superman and the Take Action campaign and how you can help locally, check out:

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