Eleven years ago, when my colleagues and I co-founded a small charter high school, we had a number of non-negotiables that we knew we would integrate into the school’s culture and curriculum:
- we would be kind to each other.
- students would practice important habits of mind, like asking good questions and considering others viewpoints.
- teachers would design their courses so that students felt a deeper connection to place.
One thing that was not a non-negotiable in those early years was whether or not our graduates would go to college. Although we all went to college, we understood that maybe college wasn’t for everyone, that there were plenty of pathways a student could take that did not require college.
A few years later, Arne Duncan and his people were publicly echoing that same sentiment: college wasn’t for everyone.
Three years ago, after my daughter was born, my parents set up a college fund in her name. My grandparents had done this for me, and now my folks were keeping up the tradition. The middle class, college-educated tradition, that is. I opened up the first month’s statement for my baby daughter’s new college account and thought: maybe college wasn’t for everyone, but it was sure as heck going to be for my child.
Come to think of it, none of the policymakers who were encouraging more open mindedness about college as a necessary destination for our nation’s youth would have been openminded about their own children. President Obama’s kids were going to go to college, and so were Secretary Duncan’s. And everyone else sitting around the big long table talking about how college wasn’t for everyone? Their kids were all going to go to college too.
College is now a non-negotiable for me, not only as a mother, but as a school leader. There is a huge opportunity gap in this country, and it is getting wider wider by the minute. This gap is perpetuated primarily by who gets a college education and who doesn’t. And as long as that is true, we as educators are obligated to make sure that every single one of our students not only sees college as an attainable option, but has access to it. If education is ever going to be the great leveler that it is believed to be, it’s time to stop pretending that going to college is really a choice.
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