By Rachel, on November 23, 2009


It’s not that I don’t believe in education.
I do.
As a girl that grew up in a low income, immigrant, working class neighborhood I attest that education helped me to step out of the bounds of the circumscribed world that lay at my feet. All around me I saw factory workers and welfare recipients. I saw people with a little bit of education puff up and bully those with none. I saw ladies take 6 or 8 month certificate programs, run out to EJ Roberts, buy “office” wear and proceed to cop an attitude with anyone that had the misfortune to find themselves needing to “aks” them a question; their ignorance worn as thick and as proudly as their Wet N Wild makeup. My role models, as far as what I saw around me, were either completely lacking in true intelligence or were so brow beaten and weary from what life had doled out to them that they were working zombies.
To make it big would have been to land a “cushy” town hall job. In West New York there was no room for things such as painting, poetry, or sculpture. Right across the river from one of the most diversified cities in the world, an average West New Yorker would have been hard pressed to tell you the difference between Pakistani and Hindu, Croatian and Russian, Senegalese and Ghanan – nor would they have cared.

So the fact that I can sit here and talk of my love of languages and cultures and peoples somehow must attest to some form of education I must have received somewhere. And yet I don’t mean that which I received in school. Because I know with 100% certainty that it was not the Hudson County Board of Education or their programs or curriculums that made me devour books (with the exception of one much loved Mr. Sullivan – 7th grade reading teacher), want to travel, try to learn new languages, etc., etc. Which brings me to my main point.
The farce that is education and in particular – higher education.
I sit here now. 34. And for all the steps I took away from that world of West New York, I ironically find myself a perfect West New York statistic. I am Hispanic. Unmarried with a child. Unemployed. And my child is on the state’s insurance. Hmmmm. At this rate all I need are Food Stamp benefits and a section eight housing voucher.
How did this happen?
Here’s the punchline – the part that should have stopped the above from happening.
I hold a high school diploma, a Bachelor’s degree in Literature, and a Master’s degree in Writing (which I’m still paying for).
Want another laugh?
My faux little sister opted not to pursue the starry lofty world of higher education instead relegating herself to the lowly world of cutting and shaving dogs. There was much hemming and hawing about it as many around her feared for her future.
She is in hot demand and always has a job that not only pays well but allows her to rake in tips as well. Fat tips.
While we’re at it…
The father of my child who holds a GED certificate has, at this moment, the highest earning potential in the household…
Now I know this is not all cut and dry. I could have applied myself more. I could have pursued different venues related to my “field”. I could have done many things for my present outcome to not be so and I accept that and yet…
Yet I still feel that a dream of easy street after attaining the fabled degree is being propagated. I saw it all the time when I taught adults returning to school. There they were – 20 or so women and men – single mothers, single fathers, ex-convicts, ex-junkies, the working poor….not all were committed. Some were there because they had to be. But those that were committed had bright blinking stars in their eyes. After I get my degree….would be a prefacing line to countless dreams and aspirations many of which sadly, were completely unattainable. But there it was – the idea that attaining this vague four year degree would pave the road to higher and mightier successes. And would it? I would bet the much needed money I don’t have that it would not. Though that was not what the administrative side would tell them in their many speeches and pep talks.
So what, some might say. It’s all relative. Success to an ex-junkie is different than to a suburban teen. Perhaps, I say. But then there were things that could not be ignored. Like 4th year students of mine still unable to write a simple 5 paragraph essay. Like the administrators telling me to simply “work with them” code for just pass them. Like people graduating and still not being able to differentiate between there, their, they’re. And then I thought……then Sharon will go to an office in mid-town and apply for a job and then she will be crushed and what of her degree then?
And the more painful question… there an educator out there thinking the same of me? Was my education a sad and painful farce to someone else?

Somehow, I suspect at times it was.

And so tonight for this moment I say Poo [I'm a mom now ;) ] to higher education and attest that the most I learned came from the books I checked out on my own time, the people I bothered to meet and question, the life I lived beyond the bounds of the schoolyard or campus and most importantly the quality instilled in me by my father who did not finish grade school – to listen and listen and listen….

And listening, my friends, though sometimes hard, is free.

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