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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Texas Education and My Broken Heart

I've just started working as a lab instructor at McLennan Community College's Mathematics Lab. That means I assist MCC students with a wide range of mathematics, from remedial arithmetic all the way to differential equations and statistics. The most difficult transition that I have had to make has been to understand and function within the realm of public education. The last time I attended or was connected to a state-sponsored school was in May of 2000 when I graduated from West Feliciana High School. Since then I have been well protected within the Baptist Bubbles of Mississippi College and Baylor University.
Now, however, things are entirely different. Instead of the Mercedes commercial that is the Baylor parking garage, I leave my little Honda in a lot full of older makes and models, many looking like they might not last the semester. The people I assist are not trust fund babies, nor do they have parents footing the relatively affordable bill of Texas public education. Instead these students are paying their own way, usually with families in tow. This is far, far away from the security and homogeneity of the Baptist Bubble, where most of the students are white, Christian, affluent people with careers well mapped out before them. Here the future is not so secure; here the gleaming halls and polished floors are tarnished with the realities of life in America.
The education is more for me, I think. I understand that I am now a resource for the Mathematics Department, and that I am participating in the overall goal of MCC to educate all who come, preparing them for work and life. I also understand, however, that these students are educating me in the ways of life outside the Bubble.
These students share some common characteristics, though, and one such trait is especially troubling to me. It is no small thing that many are in remedial mathematics, nor is it a laughable thing that many do not possess the prerequisite skills for higher education and training. However, I have found in my years in Texas and in my days at MCC that this school is not filled with lazy, complaining, and less-intelligent students. Instead, this lab is filled with students who are living the consequences of a broken public education system in this state and nation at large. I have neither the time now, nor have I done the appropriate research to argue my opinion yet, however, I think it is painfully obvious that many many children in Texas are being left behind. How ironic given the Act's author.
My heart aches for these bright, hard-working students who have underachieved because they have not had achievement placed before them. They have been given up on because of race, class, or perhaps even geography. Such is a damnable and detestable offense from any perspective except that of a racist and segregationist society. This must change, and it must change soon. Regardless of Acts of Congress or national achievement standards, too many are being cast aside as failures. Would it take more compassionate teachers? Yes, says Marvin Olasky. Would it take civil engineering and city planning? Yes, says Susan Eaton. The solution to the problem of Texas education is great and daunting, perhaps only outweighed by the mountain of humanity who do not even know that they have been cheated out of a necessary commodity; knowledge.

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