Opportunities limited without a good education

By PAT WATSON

While never having been a poster child for academic discipline, I can say with certainty that completing my first university degree and, beyond that, participating in the graduation ceremony – putting on the cap and gown and walking across the stage to receive that coveted piece of paper after hearing my name called – remains one of the stand out experiences of my life.

Despite that, I have on occasion referred to formal education as a ‘necessary evil’, especially because the homogeneous curriculum that is provided by the local education institutions can leave many students feeling disconnected and disaffected. Moreover, given the unacceptably high failure rate of students from this community, Share has long been a forum for voices advocating a more inclusive education system, one that will give a better chance of success to more students.

And it’s not just in elementary and secondary schools that we encounter this dilemma. Many areas of advanced study use a historically European perspective in defining their knowledge base. It really is a recipe for alienation for some and unawareness for the many.

Nonetheless, because of the value of higher education, many are determined not to become sidetracked by the glaring omissions and reticence by university-level educators to acknowledge, much less redress, those omissions.

Yet we know that not everyone can tough it out. I recall one particularly brilliant student who came from the Caribbean to study at a local university. The young man read beyond the course requirements and arrived with a strong background in the historical dynamic between Europe and its colonized regions.

He tried often to insert these conversations into course discussions skewed by the glaring absence of acknowledgement of the impact of plundered African natural resources on European economy and culture. He was even supported by other students in the class, but the class director repeatedly brushed his Afrocentric contributions aside.

That brilliant young man eventually had a mental breakdown. While his breakdown may be attributed as much to his character as other factors, it’s also fair to say the learning environment was a contributing factor.

As conflicting as that all is though, there is hardly a person of a certain age who cannot now fully appreciate the meaning of what had been drilled home by the previous generation of older folks who chorused that we get a good formal education. Yet, when young people hear the advice of older folks, they do so without the life experience to make sense of such guidance. Old folks may not be up-to-date about everything, but when it comes to getting a good formal education, youth have to trust that they are.

A young person may not feel the impact of lost education at first. Working at a fast food restaurant or other entry-level job is usual at that stage of life but, as time passes and opportunities for advancement are unattainable because of lack of education and skill, it begins to take its toll.

Not everyone will get a university education. Not everyone should. But, in today’s world, without advanced education and training, the chances for having a fulfilling work life are far less likely.

Here in Canada, lowered expectations are a significant problem for Black students, but they are not standardized as compared to the education system in parts of Europe, which systematically prepares young people for their station in life. If a student comes from a working-class family, European education systems present that student with options to ensure the continuation of a similar working-class life path.

Here we speak of equal opportunity, although we know the reality is not such.

Despite all that, we of advancing years are the new generation of old folks who drill into our young people that without a suitable formal education they will surely fall behind as they face their advancing years.

The cards, as we well know, are stacked against us, so it is that much tougher to resist dropping out.

The newest voices speaking from the Toronto District School Board sound very much as if they understand this, but it remains to be seen whether that understanding will translate into a lowering of the failure rate.

As anyone who didn’t get a solid education can surely testify, it’s awful to reach middle-age and still be nowhere in life.

On an accommodating note…

The aisle in the newer city bus is wide but some days not wide enough. The young mother and her entourage waited testily as they urged the old lady with the walker to move it aside so that the large baby stroller could be accommodated. In the struggle for space on a city bus which one earns your sympathy?

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