Sunday, July 17, 2011

Giving credit to rural public schools, at least anecdotally

Don't miss Nicholas Kristof's column in today's New York Times, "Our Broken Escalator." It's worth a read for the broader points it makes regarding our nation's disinvestment in education, from K-12 on up--and the devastating consequences of that disinvestment, especially for "have nots" and "have a littles." As one who appreciates rural people and places, I found especially heartening Kristof's shout out for the rural school of his youth, in Yamhill, Oregon, population 780. He writes:
In a rural, blue-collar area like Yamhill, traditionally dependent on farming and forestry, school has always been an escalator to opportunity. One of my buddies was Loren, a house painter’s son, who graduated as salutatorian and became a lawyer. That’s the role that education historically has played — but the escalator is now breaking down.
Earlier in his column, Kristof refers to the "plain brick building" that housed his high school as his "rocket ship," the place where he "embraced sports, became a journalist, encountered intellectual worlds, and got in trouble. These days,' he writes, "the 430 students still have opportunities to get into trouble, but the rest is harder." Kristof goes on to document, anecdotally, cuts to public education, at all levels, across the United States. He closes with this paragraph:
Sometimes I hear people endorse education cuts by arguing that “school isn’t for everybody,” which usually means something like “education isn’t for other people’s children” — or that farm kids in places like Yamhill really don’t need schools that double as rocket ships. I can’t think of any view that is more un-American.
My hats off to Kristof for, among other things, sticking up for rural kids and the schools they deserve. It's in sharp contrast to so much that we see not only in the media, but also in higher education and admissions policy, that discounts the achievements of rural kids. (Read some earlier commentary on this topic here and here. Mitchell Stevens also documents this phenomenon in his book Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites where he discusses the "rural New England valedictorian" who never gets admitted).

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