To express a perhaps unpopular opinion, I love school. Therefore, I decided to become a teacher. However, with my education classes came fieldwork in schools all around the area. My world opened up to a world of inequality in the education that students receive. This inequality in public education is absolutely the greatest threat facing our nation today. Inequality in education perpetuates a growing wealth gap by preventing class mobility, as well as promoting racism, undermining the very definition of our American values.
The current system of public education encourages segregation based on race as well as socioeconomic status. According to the Civil Rights Project published by UCLA, the 1991 Supreme Court “authorized the termination of desegregation plans” in our country which perpetuated increased segregation among race. This trend continues today. Schools with less than “10% white enrollment have more than tripled.” These schools are typically in improvised areas. Consequently, students of color are simply not receiving the same education as their richer counterparts. A valedictorian at a low-performing school will simply not be as college-ready as an average student at a top performing public high school. To give low-income students a real opportunity to attend college, improved education at the local level is crucial.
Not only is this disparity disallowing future academic and financial success but encouraging racism. When living in a United States during a time when the President was endorsed by the Klu Klux Klan, we wonder what our relationship with race is. As humans, we are biologically built to distrust the “other.” However, we create the image of “other” by the separation of schools. An article by the Century Foundation titled “The Benefits of Socioeconomically and Racially Integrated Schools and Classrooms” cites a plethora of benefits of integration, including higher average test scores, enhanced leadership skills, and providing equitable access to resources. Specifically, the city that integration can “reduce racial bias” and leads to “a dramatic decrease in discriminatory attitudes.” Integration is not a necessary chore, but an outstanding resource that the United States has an opportunity to use. Diversity is what has made the United States a world power. If the United States truly wants to battle major issues such as white nationalism, they must treat the disease and not the symptom.
Because of the situation above, students who attend poorer schools have less access to class mobility. As the income gap widens in the United States, there lies route to disaster. If a solution to our underperforming schools is not reached and acted upon, we will be left behind in a global economy that requires diversity in thought. American politics, already at a tense and divided time, will continue to get more so. If working-class white Americans and people of color cannot receive the same education as their rich counterparts, we will never see an accurate representation of American citizens within Congress. Officials will continue to be elected who have the finances and education to get them in power, and the specific needs of the people who need it most will never be met. Additionally, the very values that the United States promotes will be lost if we cannot level the playing field. The United States values a meritocracy. Yet if everyone begins at a different starting point, then is it really a meritocracy?
The solution is obvious, even if its application is less so. Obviously, to level the playing field in the United States, we must integrate our school systems. Hypothetically, it would be incredibly difficult to create diversity in a poor, white, rural town where students already travel for miles just to attend classes. Yet, areas such as Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, and other large cities already have access to a large pubic transit system that could help create more diversity. Areas such as Youngstown which have inner city schools very close to rich suburban schools can work at the county level to find appropriate solutions that fit local needs. To ensure that this happens, the government at the state and federal level should provide incentives towards integration and monitor progress from a larger scale.
Of course, it is easier to identify a problem than to solve it. But ignoring the problem allows a further mess. If we fail to provide equal education to every student our country, we fail to uphold our American promise. The potential problems that stem from such a large-scale issue are infinite. But, in the end, so are the possibilities that come with the incentive to find solutions.
Anna Maria Jadue
This is the winning entry for the 2019 Pi Sigma Alpha Essay Contest. The topic of the contest was “What do you see as the greatest political challenge facing our nation, and what do you propose should be done to address this?”