Education is the cornerstone of democracy. Its mission is to transmit the knowledge and skills needed for young people to become productive and contributing members of our society. Given the number of students who live in poverty and struggle to find the right pathway in life, education has proven over time to be one of the key predictors of lifelong success.
As the youngest of six children from a family with very little financial stability, I watched my older siblings leverage their education. From one generation to another, our family has seen tremendous growth in terms of opportunities and access to better paying jobs. As schools, school districts, colleges and universities understand the complexities of their organizations, our young people are more confused than ever about the direction to take to secure a successful future. In my conversations with hundreds of students, they all seem to want the same thing; opportunities to think, create, and contribute to a larger society.
While this all seems simple, the right conditions must be created in order for our young people to have equal opportunity for equity and equality to exist. I heard recently, “the shoe that fits one person pinches another.” The significance of this statement is: there is a difference in equity and equality. As our young generation pursues greatness, stardom, financial independence, education, or whatever their individual dreams and aspirations might be, education is and will continue to be the foundation upon which their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren are built.
I watch and observe the dynamics of my own family. My father went into the military right out of high school; my mother finished three years of college and stopped going to return home to help my grandmother recover from the death of my grandfather. She never returned. Their lives and ours was a struggle; to some degree, just to put food on the table. My brothers, sisters and I paid attention and all went to college. All of our children made the decision to attend college. As a result, we now have doctors (education and medical), lawyers, judges, and teachers in our family. The verdict is in: life is more difficult without education; it’s less difficult with education.
If this is so clear to those of us who have endured the “ugly” side of life, finding it difficult to live life on life’s terms, why then is it so difficult to convince the millennial generation that education is not only an important ticket to punch on life’s journey, but an imperative one?
One might argue the point of contention is the cost of education or the status of the student loan argument presently taking center stage in presidential debates and on the floors of parliament or congress. We must also add the influences of our young people. While writing my book entitled, “Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me?” I researched influences on educating today’s youth. There was five listed and are in order of earlier influences in their life span:
Later in their life span (teen-age years), these influences flipped to the following order:
Could we be experiencing the fall-out of the influence of what families provided long ago: security, values, boundaries, and most importantly, positive influence on young lives? I would venture to say, regardless of socio-economics, it rarely mattered years ago how much money families had. What mattered were the positive influences and the push from the home for children to be better and do better.
We are reminded today that education matters and it matters because it produces opportunities for our young people to live a good, stable life. While our young generation can and will use examples of Hollywood movie stars or professional athletes who didn’t choose education to provide their pathway to success, we know better. When we know better, we must do better on behalf of our young children, students, and youth. While all dreams are possible, the chances of becoming a movie star or a professional athlete are small compared to one earning a degree. I should know – I was one of them. As a great high school and college athlete, my future was bright until an injury prevented me from competing at the next level. When I look back and realize the fact that, if I had not finished college, my life would not be what it is today, it frightens me. More importantly, my children and grandchildren’s lives would not be what it is today, nor would the lives of the countless thousands my work over the past 36 years has impacted positively.
In my opinion, education is the vaccine for poverty.
Author: Dr. Stephen Peters, the youngest of six children watched his older siblings leverage education to become successful. He used his athletic talent to land a college scholarship to play basketball. Upon graduating college with no professional contract in sight, he continued to secure more education until he received his doctorate degree. Dr. Peters believes a quality education provides options that secures a pathway to a life worth living. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @stephengpeters.
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