Jun 302015

Education – Exposure – Employment – Entrepreneurship

Educators and non-educators are now pushing for serious and lasting education reform. At the same time, lower income boys are gunned down on a near weekly basis throughout the country. The most horrific shootings, often caught on video, are shown over and over on 24 hour news shows, boosting ratings. Poverty has impact. It creates a fertile ground in this 24/7 world for the hate mongers to recruit the disaffected, the forgotten and the lost, all hoping to find a community of like minded and often dangerous companions and supporters. What happens when the disaffected become the majority?

The urban inner city “gangs,” well known to most, have morphed, or better yet spread from the streets of the inner cities to the virtual online world accessible to nearly every child.

How many more tragedies do we have to see before we recognize what can happen when masses of young men are left out of the economic mainstream? Their receptivity to calls for glory from nefarious operatives, planting seeds of hate, increases dramatically when these young men lose hope and can not see themselves EVER participating in the mainstream economic future of the country. These lost young men come in all shades and come from all regions. Most are poor. Most have not been served well by public education. Many are facing challenges unknown to those setting policy; enacting legislation; creating new education ventures or offering well researched theories of change and school reform.

Many of the education reform movements over the past few years required massive increases in spending on new curriculum, new teacher training, or new facilities. But few investments in public education (public or philanthropic) actually flow to those most in need of hope and economic exposure at a time when they are eager to participate. The fact is, per pupil tuition and grant funds seldom flow to the child or their community outside of the school they attend. Many readers might refute this argument, saying that public schools across the country are funded by tuition dollars allocated per child from government (federal, state and municipal) to school districts. But the lower income child (and most parents) are so far removed from school funding and budgeting, they do not recognize the connection between their child’s attendance at a school and the school’s operational revenue.  The per pupil tuition and grant money flow supports a massive educational bureaucracy. There are very few, if any,  education lobbyists today advocating to divert some small portion of funds to create jobs for lower income public school children.

Motivation for Academic Persistence

In many of the neighborhoods that are served by dysfunctional and poor performing schools, jobs for young and old are nearly impossible to find. And if a job is available it may be working within a chain store of some type, often at the counter or cash register, gaining skills with limited applicability outside of the customer facing, low paying food service or retail trade. Not to say these are not good jobs. They are. But they often do not provide a living wage and they are not careers.  When parents, grandparents and children are all vying for the same meager opportunities, the young can directly and daily see a future for themselves that does not provide much motivation.

For far too many students stuck in persistently depressed neighborhoods, their life experience and the experience of those around them shape their future vision. What educators and policy makers don’t seem to understand is that our lower income children are actually acting as “rationale agents” as defined in economics. They are making choices based on what they know, what they have been told and more importantly what they have experienced.  Perhaps their level of engagement (or more likely disengagement)  in school  is directly related to what they see (or more likely do not see)  as their future.

In neighborhoods where parents have never been to college; where career jobs are impossible to find; where low income dead end job openings result in block long lines of applicants; where the school and the jail are among the largest and well known local employers; where unemployment is the norm and where hopelessness has become pervasive – what future vision and motivation should we expect?  Motivation enough to propel a child forward, pursuing the rigor and challenge of algebra, geometry, or uncovering the nuances of the plot line of The Great Gatsby?   They ask – to what end?   Why learn to swim when there is no water around?

Rationale Agents

Our children, are “rationale agents.” If we have taken away their hope at a young age, what choices will they make today about their future. If day-to-day survival is a battle in which they have to take up arms to feel safe, how much of a future do they see? If the dignity of life has been stripped away because of family subjugation to the welfare system how much respect would they have for others and themselves. If the media, with its glorified materialism, continuously makes them feel like a second or third class citizen because of their daily reality, how do they find and sustain basic human dignity and self respect?

The elephant in the room in education reform is poverty and the culture that it creates. A culture that may vary by region, city or neighborhood.   But at the core of this national poverty culture is the fact that our kids are losing the hope and drive that comes from striving for the so-called “American Dream.” Young men are more practical these days. They know early on what the “deal” really is. They see it in their homes as their parents often struggle, living with such dire and debilitating financial insecurity that creates households dealing with ongoing stress and mental humiliation.

Too much of this so-called education reform is simply funneling money from government to district/school budgets, to curriculum publishers, to national education vendors that have created business models around the lucrative flow of seemingly recession proof education dollars.  Our children, especially those from lower income communities, need jobs. They need to experience work. They need to understand, in the short term, what the impact of education can be. They need to see role models of educational success in their communities. They need to see local young community entrepreneurs creating jobs in the neighborhood for their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.

Day-to-day reality or future vision

Getting an education is hard work. It takes persistence. The motivation to pursue an education is often fueled by a compelling future vision. Exposing kids early to the benefits and challenges of the world of work will prepare them to become participants. Expanding employment opportunities for lower income children is critical. With education and exposure we can implant the seeds of hope that will push a young man to study and study hard. But if these capable young men are surrounded by others with a similar dream, unfortunately meeting to compare horror stories and frustrations on the unemployment or welfare line, can we blame them for becoming discouraged? When discouragement is the norm, the community suffers irreparable damage to its psyche,  self esteem and its hopes for the future.

Those few lower income kids that do succeed educationally often leave the community, taking a career focused job with a large stable employer. A choice that is both rationale and economically sound. But that means the best and brightest leave the community rather than focusing on finding ways to create wealth and jobs for themselves and their community as entrepreneurs.

We should expand our initiatives well beyond education reform. What is needed is economic revitalization for those communities that have been intentionally and persistently, neglected and forgotten.  The current future where hopelessness dominates has to be re-cast into one in which all can participate in the challenge of building and progressing toward a dream for their tomorrow. I propose that we focus on the 4Es which will provide a future vision of hope to many lower income children. We already have too many tax takers in our society. What we need is a new focus on the development of tax makers.

Education – Exposure – Employment – Entrepreneurship