blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
The rest of the GYC in NYC group and I, were standing in the July heat, with the New York City Kids Creative summer camp, asking children as young as six years old what it means to be human. Living up to the camp’s title, the creative kids did come up with innovative answers: one of the participants suggested that we are human because we can fly spaceships while another believed that we are all one big family because we have ears. A small girl with dark brown bangs hiding her eyes suddenly raised her voice. “Being human is learning,” she told us, and went on to draw a book on the manlike outline painted in chalk on the boiling asphalt.
Somewhere on the outskirts of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26 to be exact), is the right to free, quality education. This right, neglected in many developing countries, is also compromised in industrialized countries where education is not well-funded and those who can afford to do so choose to send their children to smaller private schools. This private education system does not only de facto segregate the wealthy from the poor, but also insures that those kept out of the stronger system will not receive the same opportunities as those who can and do attend. Since those with capital mostly choose to attend the private system, public authorities also lack an apparent immediate economic incentive to improve public education.
Free quality education is the most effective means to escape poverty. It gives those who acquire it hope – an opportunity to find well-paid work in the job market (considering that having a high skilled vocation is even more crucial in our modern world, in which it is only a matter of time before “blue-collar” labor will vanish), and a way to avoid a life of crime, which, in many impoverished places, is a result of despair and a means of survival.
Education is essential to reduce social economic inequality and is an investment in the economic future of a society: the United States Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (better known as the “G.I. Bill“) for example, which allowed veterans returning from WW II to receive free or affordable education (among other benefits), has greatly contributed to the economic growth of the country.
I believe that problems in education are mostly a result of financial neglect. We must demand higher salaries for teachers, smaller classes, more guidance counselors and better programs. All of these may be expensive, but, as I was reminded during GYC’s visits to the Children’s Defense Fund and the Juvenile Justice Project, we are already paying a higher price for not having such programs in place: it costs much more to keep offenders (who are not normally private school students) in detention centers, and to hire more people to work in security forces than it costs to send a child to school.
One of the reasons that education does not receive sufficient public funding is that it is never a quick fix solution. The wounds that schooling has the power to mend may take decades to heal. Education is nevertheless, a long-term investment, and the sooner we will start supporting it, the sooner will we have a better society.
Education is however more than a vessel to financial success. Through the process of education we acquire values. We sometimes use what we learn in order to build and create. Good educators can give us new perspectives and show us fresh ways of looking at the world. To paraphrase Descartes, because we think, we know that we exist. As long as I am able to learn, I know that I live.
As a society, we owe ourselves the better environment that education can create. As individuals we simply have a duty to learn.