Education: Children Become Their Parents by Kyle Phoenix

There's a push and a ranting and a visceral push now in the world around education.  Primarily this is driven by the internet.  The availability of so much information/knowledge from so many of the people of Earth, throughout disciplines and sciences and innovation means that individuals have a different level of expectation on them than ever before.  This then traces back through all of our lives to how much education we have and how to improve it.

I spend a lot of my professional time teaching and developing intensive programs particularly for Black and Latino students to advance.  I've been working on a range of students from elementary school all the way up to adult/college level learners with the concern of how to infuse knowledge and ability and assess where students are at.  Truthfully, not everyone from all of those ranges 5 to 50 are going to make it, are going to advance in education.  Some of the students have dropped out of high school, some haven't completed college, some need job training and I'm always struck by how some students latch on and move through.  The benefit of my unique positions is that I can ask questions of the home life of children/adults and get a deeper sense of the history of education within a family.

Here's what I've bluntly learned: the education level of your parents determines your education level.  If books were used in your house for holding up furniture and starting the fire in the stove, the product of those homes has less of a an interest and drive towards learning in a formalized education way.  Now you might bring up exceptions to this concept,maybe even you have a college education and your parents didn't.  I'll throw back at you there are two exceptionalizing forces:  
  • One's maternal grandfather's education level influences your own.  Why so?  A man who is educated will want his children to be educated, even his daughters (your mother); your mother having a higher education will make education a priority to her and your grandfather spending time with you will allow him to transfer higher linguistic skills faster to children.  (Women tend to educate their children as a matter of course while men tend to be out of the house working so don't have as strong an influence to immediate education.  This is why the education of women is so vital around the world.)
  • Secondly, mentors/teachers.  If your parents were not as highly educated as you then look for the relative/mentor who replaced them intellectually/educationally in your life.

 What I often find in my students is they're raised in single parent households by women who are trying to occupy the role of parent and breadwinner.  This negates a woman's ability to enforce education.  Or worse yet Welfare is the crippling force that the women are dependent upon for education.  Welfare creates entitlement but not empowerment.  It teaches, multiple generations, the disqualification of masculine/manhood responsibility and also erodes the work ethic of adults who on it too long.  How does Welfare effect students when they get to my classrooms?  They don't have an ingrained work ethic to do the work and if you don't come from education, you don't know what the value of education is.  Education has no value in Welfare, nor vice versa and when there is no value, it negates the other.

We can expand the concept of Welfare to Poverty.  Poor people stay poor because of the ways to get out of poverty are generally out of range to them:

  1. Windfall: winning the lottery; Powerball was 1 in 175,000,000 to win this week.
  2. Inheritance: if you're poor, there's probably no inheritance
  3. Marriage: to marry rich is really, really, really a stretch.  Pretty Woman is such a fantasy and transfer that to people of color who aren't celebrities or sports stars.
  4. Education: is the sole way that all social classes can shift to the next level by becoming say a doctor, lawyer, scientist, entrepreneur.
I am often shaking my head in frustration at students who won't read a book, write a page, do some math, make an effort, well into their 20s and 30s and higher but I have to roll back my understanding to this precept: there is no educational history in their family.  I know that what I'm trying to get them to do, doesn't make sense to them.  Literally lack of education shifts how people see time, they can't see what education might mean to their lifetime or even how their education could break the cycle of parent-child outcome.

How do we change this?

There's a mass of us that are educated, approximately 35% of Blacks and 30% of Latinos have graduated high school and gone on to and through college.  That mass must turn around and assist at least 1 other person to get through high school and then at least 4 years of college.  By 2014 the minimum requirement for earning $15 an hour will be a 2 year Associates degree.  Imagine if the Educated could get tax breaks or some of their student loans paid off for volunteer mentoring/educational services?  You can volunteer with a GED program and make it a goal to get several of those students in a year to graduation/degree.  Then make it a further goal to get them into college.

I'm lucky in some ways that I'm able to mentor students into college and through it.  One of my efforts has been to create a chain of individuals from GED to 2 year college to Ivy League university at Columbia, helping all each other get through with tutoring in each individuals weakest subject.  I think of it as the application of an Educational Railroad similar to the Underground railroad, someone is a step ahead of you, a year ahead of you so they can help you through that year.  There's then another student ahead of them to help pull them to the next level.  I've been able to design programs/schools for adults to further educate them to college level and then teach them how to tutor their children.

It in no way helps a child to send them to school and you can't do multiplication or geometry or calculus when they get home.  Do they see you reading books or watching Atlanta Housewives?  For birthdays and Christmas are you giving the latest electronics or books and making the reading of the books and writing reports how they get a $20.  It seems weird to pay children to read/grow but the logic of wanting children to do for free what they might not understand the long term value of yet, is worth a few dollars.

I wrote before about education for children and adults and I was asked what's the right amount of reading/math that should be done to improve a child or an adult's skill level.  One book a week but the books have to be of increasing difficulty.  Reading Stephen King is easy which is one of the reasons why he's so popular, challenge to the next level of an Edgar Allen Poe.  Smart is natural, intelligence is developed through increasing complexity.  Zane might be sexy and fun but Toni Morrison will make you work for the book.  Hand out books to strangers, make it mandatory for your relationships with younger people.  Read a book yourself every week---you're an example and role model to someone.  You might even consider that is you're looking for a man or woman, especially one of color, maybe you can't find what you want or feel that you deserve in terms of education or money or work ethic, because we who are educated are not going back.  But Good Men and Women do go back.  And while you're helping, you might suddenly be cute to the other volunteer teacher who cares about their community, other people and the future.  Taht says a lot about character.  Suddenly, you've just been casually told where the Good Men and Women are, huh?  I'm just saying........

The most hopeful thing I've seen this year was on the 3 train coming from an adult educational institute I started a few months back.  It was about 10pm and there was a young Black girl, about 17 years old with a baby in a stroller.  But she was reading a book.  I'm always bobbing and trying to peep what people are reading and I was gratified to see that it was a novel of some merit.  I said I've got to break the wall of propriety and tell her how wonderful she is, let her know that someone sees her trying to improve herself.  As she was about to get off I stopped her and handed her a book from my bag that my students were reading (Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison) and I told her I was a teacher (so she wouldn't freak out), that I was proud of her and had an extra book for her.  She was thankful and happy and then she did what every teachers wishes to see, she looked at the book with a naked greed for what it might contain, ravenous for her new intellectual meal.

I don't know what she will become but I do know she will become.

Thank you,
Kyle Phoenix
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