On March 1, thousands of students in the U.S. rallied for the National Day of Action for Education in response to the harsh conditions today’s students face amidst economic crisis, tuition hikes, and racial disparity. Ninty-four percent of polled parents expect their child to attend college, but without the foresight to prepare youth for college, increasing college costs, and targeting youth in the criminal justice system, are we allowing this generation of young people to succeed?
In 2008, college enrollment reached an all-time high, and particularly increased among people of color. However, after being hit by the economic crisis, tuition hikes, educational funding cuts, and no longer preparing high school students for college life, students in public and private higher education institutions are struggling to graduate four years later.
According to a recent PEW Research Center study, students are significantly underperforming in U.S. schools in comparison to their international counterparts, and the general opinion is that more pressure should be placed on students to succeed.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans consider college attendance necessary to find gainful employment, and the students who cannot afford to attend university have taken record amounts in loans to join the ranks of the unemployed, 5.8% among college grads, rather than the 10.9% for those with only some college. In the survey, 48% of student loan borrowers found that it has greatly affected their ability to make ends meet, and 31% have delayed plans to begin careers or start families.
While students face a myriad of issues once in college, getting to college proves difficult for young people. Many of these challenges faced by young people can be traced to the broken public educational system, where the 49.9 million students are enrolled in public elementary and high schools in the United States.
Many of the issues students in the public school system face come from a serious lack of funding and investment in these learning institutions. A majority of teachers purchase their own supplies because they are not provided budgets to execute their curriculums. Also, there are some indicators among the worst performing schools in the country. Not surprisingly, many of these underfunded schools are in areas where socio-economic class status and race reveal an unfortunate marriage: the poorer/browner a community is, the less money its schools receive.
Having no money has also forced administrators to think “creatively” about finding resources. Given the dismal prospects, many schools have partnered with private companies, essentially selling students as a new market for products and for product testing. Without adequate funding, this shifts teachers’ and administrators’ focus on acquiring capital, rather than engaging students in critical thinking.
This quest for funding and distraction from an actual education in recent years has created a decline in college-bound student quality. The majority of surveyed college presidents, 58%, say public high school students come to college poorly prepared compared to their counterparts a mere decade ago.
There are also other societal inequities that factor in for youth of color.
Racial profiling also affects how young people of color access college educations. Statistics show that African-American and Latino youth are more likely to be stopped and frisked by police without reasonable cause. In New York, African-Americans are only 25.6% of the City's population, yet 50.6% of all those "stopped" during the data period were African-Americans. Latinos are 23.7% of New York City's population, but made up 33% of all stops. By contrast, whites are 43.4% of the City's population, yet only made up 12.9% of stops. African-Americans were 62.7% of all persons "stopped" by the NYPD's Street Crime Unit (SCU).
New York is the last state to try 16-year-olds as adults in criminal court, which deny the accused important access to social services at the hands of family court. In a recent U.S. Justice Department "juvenile-justice report, minorities were at least twice as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison, even comparing youth with similar criminal histories.” Which poses the question: If we criminalize young people early on, what does that say about our expectations of how they can contribute to our communities in the future?
As the product of the public school system for the majority of my life, I stand behind the thousands marching across cities for the National Day of Action for Education. When we deny students the right to a quality education, we are divesting in future leadership of our nation. When we do not create leaders for our respective communities, we are unable to break out of cycles of systematic oppressions we inherit. Yes, there are success stories out there of young people overcoming the odds, but these examples are only part of a broader reality young people face. It is our duty to ensure our youth receive every opportunity, financial and otherwise, that our communities and government can provide to secure our collective futures.
In the spirit of Thursday's protest, I leave you with one of the most inspiring student mobilizations I’ve ever come across: hundreds of elementary school students, high school students, and community organizers speaking against the educational budget cuts in the San Francisco Unified School District during the March 2011 rallies.
Photo Credit: cyberchunk2000