AFTER A DIZZYING year and a half that did not so much rob as bastardize our schoolchildren’s education, I’ve felt a little cynical about the state of education in the wake of the pandemic.
We are born into systems that determine whether we receive a high-quality education or not, be rich or poor, prosper with abundant resources or suffer without them.”
When schools and universities went online in March of 2020, low-income Black and brown students bore a disproportionate brunt of remote learning, as I wrote in The New York Times. Our most vulnerable students lacked internet access and stable homes, while President Donald Trump railed at schools to open their gates for in-person instruction, despite the risks to low-income communities, and our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos funneled federal aid dedicated for K-12 funding needs to independent and religious schools. None of this should have been a surprise, and yet I couldn’t help but feel aghast at the clarity of our times: our leaders have learned so little from crisis after crisis, if not outright refused to learn.
However much our leaders learned — or did not — I mustered what I could during my last year and a half of high school on Zoom. Despite coming from a low-income family, I had the privilege of attending a supportive school with teachers who believed in me more than I did. I had family, friends, and mentors who helped me find the right of way in a socioeconomic maze that condemns too many people like me to a life of despair.
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Not everyone has had the same opportunities as me. And as I reflect over the last 12 years of my education, I’ve become increasingly aware that people are largely products of systems: we are born into systems that determine whether we receive a high-quality education or not, be rich or poor, prosper with abundant resources or suffer without them.
But the beautiful thing is that, with the right public policy, we can make good systems for everyone. That’s why I support tuition-free college and cancelation of student debt, which will increase access to higher education and boost the economy as young people are disencumbered from the crippling costs of college.
Education cannot be thought of as a commodity or as a means of maximizing profit. It is a sacred rite of passage that must be afforded to all in recognition of our human dignity. And it is in that spirit, if we’re courageous enough in the flesh, that our cynicism may dissolve into the first rays of hope.