Last month I was lucky enough to attend a speaking event by Geoffrey Canada. For those of you who aren’t geeked out on education like I am, this comes straight from his website:
“Since 1990, Mr. Canada has been the President and Chief Executive Officer for Harlem Children’s Zone, which The New York Times Magazine called “one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time.” In October 2005, Mr. Canada was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and World Report.” Mr. Canada grew up in the Bronx with three brothers, raised by a single mom. He says he would have easily become a statistic of the streets had education not saved him. He worries about how many children like him we are not saving. We should worry, too.
One of the most gripping points of his talk: 75% of American youth are ineligible to serve in our military. What?! He broke it down for us. Between those who don’t graduate high school, who are obese, who have a physical disability, who may have graduated high school but still can’t pass the entrance exam…only 25% of our youth are candidates for the military. Blue collar jobs are more and more being eliminated from our society. No hands on jobs and no military options, where do these kids go? Mostly jail.
We incarcerate young adults at an alarming rate. And at an average cost of about $40,000 per inmate, it’s ghastly what our country spends on prisons. Canada says we put juveniles and young adults in jail at about 7 times the rate of our global competitors, China and India. What are they doing with all that extra money? Putting it back into education. Wouldn’t it be smart of us to invest in our kids on the front end, rather than through a jail cell and three squares daily?
One way he suggests we do that: make teachers more accountable. If you teach well, you get a big raise. If you don’t, you find a new job. That sounds basic enough, but it’s nearly impossible to implement through the deep bureaucracy and traditions of our educational system.
As those of us privileged enough to have outstanding teachers know, a good teacher changes your life forever. Some of us can move to the right neighborhoods to enjoy that “perk”. This winter, as we sit in our comfortable homes with cozy fires and home cooked meals, being distantly grateful to the bodies of young men and women who make our comfort so abundant we take it for granted, we should wonder who will be left to defend our comfort in the future. If you think the educational crisis doesn’t affect you, you are wrong.