"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." —Chinese Proverb
Today is a Blog Action Day and the topic is poverty. I haven't participated in one of these before, but this is something I feel strongly about. Teaching at the College of New Rochelle's extension campus in the South Bronx has only made me more aware of how dire the problem is. Understandably, the current financial crisis has too,though I have little to lose in it personally. The longer I teach students like the ones I have now, who are coming back to school later in life either because they didn't understand how important it was at first, couldn't afford it, or had other obstacles to overcome, the more clearly I see how education is one of the most important tools for fighting poverty. Sure, living wages and a redistribution of wealth would help too, but there's truth to the idea that you can't ever take away someone's education or skills from them.
I believe one of the most important steps this or any other country could take to to alleviate poverty is to invest heavily in the education of its children, teenagers, and young adults. Don't just make education compulsory to the age of 16, make it desirable, make it possible. Invest heavily in the best and the brightest, but don't leave the rest behind; everyone has abilities and talents that can be cultivated and that will ultimately contribute to society. Make education not just the best option available, but the most affordable. Make teaching a more desirable career by paying teachers decent wages and investing in public schools. Limit class sizes, and make sure teachers and schools have the physical resources to provide not just an adequate education, but a first-class education.
One of the biggest causes of absenteeism in my classes is lack of childcare. Many of my students are single mothers, often without extended family resources to rely on for childcare. Lack of childcare in this country is a huge issue for working mothers of every socioeconomic class. When it's so expensive that often the woman's second salary is paying for childcare to allow her to work, where does that put single working mothers, or single mothers trying to work and get an education at the same time? Screwed, that's where. Providing on-campus childcare for students and faculty makes both jobs easier, instead of making this another obstacle to be overcome.
Above all, make education affordable. As it stands now, it's nearly
out of the reach of everyone but the wealthy. Middle class and working
class students come out of four or five or six years of college—spread
out because of necessary pausesto earn enough money to go back—saddled with five- or six-digit debts
along with the new undergraduate or graduate degrees. Doctors and
lawyers have a good chance of repaying those debts; people who want to
go into public service, not so much. So unless we want a glut of
unhappy lawyers and doctors, trim some of those exorbitant
administration salaries, and subsidize higher education for everyone
who can't afford it. Let's see some of those hugely endowed schools
cough up a bit more financial aid for deserving students.
Support people on welfare who want to get an education, whether it's just skills training or actual degrees. Encourage people who don't want to or don't think they can pursue an education to see that it's a better option, and that the help is available; help them dare to dream. Many of my students have such modest dreams: a house where each child has their own room; a working car; a decent vacation, the ability to pay their bills themselves. They want, in short, what the middle class takes for granted. It's achievable with an education. Then they can really start to lift themselves out of poverty. And once that happens, they can really start to dream.