Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2009 Issue »

    Youth Voices

    In These Uncertain Times, Your Most Valuable Investment

    Grace Aviles
    12th grade, Stuyvesant High School, New York, New York

    It was the first time in my four years of high school that I remember hearing absolutely nothing, except one single voice. An hour had been inserted in between sixth and seventh period so that every student at Stuyvesant High School could watch the inauguration, and as over three thousand students sat silently watching, it seemed as if we were all riding the psychological high of being swept up in the enthusiasm of our next president. As I left the room where I had been watching that day, I remember vaguely thinking that we had not been allowed to watch the inauguration of our last president in school.

    Barack Obama was already affecting my education.

    As students in the twenty-first century, we are taught that education is an invaluable resource. And yet, as with so many societal mandates, what is said and what actions portend are two very different things. One only has to open any newspaper to see that the United States is currently not in enviable financial straits. And obviously, few would argue that the economy is not an extraordinarily pressing issue in today’s time. With unemployment topping six percent and inflation the highest the United States has seen since the oil shocks of the 1970s, it seems obvious that a top priority should be for the government to prevent the suffering of the American people in a way akin to the Great Depression.

    However, what these times of economic crisis do not mean is that it is at all acceptable to deprioritize education.

    As part of his pre-crash campaign, Barack Obama proposed a number of ambitious (and much needed) reforms of the education system including reforming the well-intentioned, though ill-implemented, No Child Left Behind Act, investing in early childhood education, and making college affordable to all Americans. Reading this sometime last summer, I, like so many others at my high school, was caught up in the fervor of change. Yet, as I sit here typing this in February, almost a month after his inauguration, there remains one word conspicuously absent from the “diary of the first 100 days” the BBC so helpfully keeps: education.

    I do not understand the mentality the majority of America seems to have, which is reinforced by our current administration, and has been reinforced by almost every administration before it, that education and the economy are two different, mutually exclusive priorities. At a time when the United States, a leading world hegemony, ranks only 20th (20th!) in international literacy and 19th in terms of math proficiency at the 12th-grade level, at a time where only 33 percent of 4th and 8th graders and 24 percent of 12th graders have mastered the most basic of writing skills (Manzo, 2008), we need to suspect that there may be more than a correlational link between slipping education standards and our flailing economy.

    With issues of foreign policy and rapidly darkening horizons for the economy, as a student I sympathize with the many initiatives Barack Obama, our new president, has to deal with. But as a student who will also see school budgets cut by almost half next year, who sees the ever-lowering standards set for her by the New York Board of Regents, and who knows that less than half of her fellow New York City  seniors will graduate with a diploma in four years, a focus on these initiatives cannot be used as an excuse.

    I do not know what Barack Obama means for my education—yet. But if he is to fall into the trap that dozens of politicians have before him and not take quick action to reverse impending budget cuts and prioritize education, I can state sadly now that it will be nothing good.

    References:
    Manzo, K. (2008, April 3). More students master ‘basics’ on writing NAEP: Only a small proportion of 8th    and 12th graders are ‘proficient.’ Education Week. Retrieved April 6, 2009, from http://www.edweek.org/

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    Summer 2009 Issue

    Abstracts

    Editors’ Introduction
    Note to Educators
    Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete
    Jeffrey M. R. Duncan-Andrade
    A Dialogue
    Our Selves, Our Students, and Obama
    Jennifer McLaughlin and Kim Kelly
    President Obama and Education
    The Possibility for Dramatic Improvements in Teaching and Learning
    Linda Darling-Hammond
    Promise and Peril
    Charter Schools, Urban School Reform, and the Obama Administration
    Charles Payne and Tim Knowles
    Reclaiming Our Freedom to Teach
    Education Reform in the Obama Era
    Megan Behrent
    Obama’s Dilemma
    Postpartisan Politics and the Crisis of American Education
    Henry A. Giroux
    Second-Class Integration
    A Historical Perspective for a Contemporary Agenda
    Vanessa Siddle Walker
    Equity and Empathy
    Toward Racial and Educational Achievement in the Obama Era
    Prudence L. Carter
    It Wasn’t Easy to Get Here
    Kathleen Mayse
    Obama, Where Art Thou?
    Hoping for Change in U.S. Education Policy
    Wayne Au
    Praise Song for Teachers
    A Call to Action
    Ariane White
    Educating Latino Immigrant Students in the Twenty-First Century
    Principles for the Obama Administration
    Carola Suárez-Orozco and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco
    Education for Everyday People
    Obstacles and Opportunities Facing the Obama Administration
    Gloria Ladson-Billings
    An Insurrectionary Generation
    Young People, Poverty, Education, and Obama
    Jay Gillen
    An Earned Insurgency
    Quality Education as a Constitutional Right
    Robert P. Moses
    Barack Obama and the Fight for Public Education
    William Ayers
    Coda: The Slow Fuse of Change
    Obama, the Schools, Imagination, and Convergence
    Maxine Greene