Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lessons in Life: The Educational System Versus Real Experience

The other day, I attended a graduation ceremony of one of the local community colleges. The celebration mingled the usual collection of old and young, drunk and sober, rude and civilized, well-dressed to skanky. The graduation was held in the chapel of a Baptist church, as the community college had no auditorium large enough to hold such a gathering of people.

I hope the church charged a lot of money for renting out its chapel, as the audience and graduates alike left the place littered with programs, water bottles, wrappers, confetti, and balloons (some intact, some shredded).

As part of the ceremony, one of the students, Juan, gave the graduation address.

Juan told the story of the struggles he had in finding his path in life. His mother came to the US when she was pregnant so Juan could become a citizen of the US. Juan grew up on the streets, joined a gang, got involved in drugs, was incarcerated, and generally screwed up.

As Juan got older, he realized that he needed to change and to gain an education. He enrolled in community college. He walked a mile each day to and from the bus stop, then rode the bus two hours every day to school.

He started to learn. He became involved in many on-campus groups. He became a mentor and is now devoting himself to helping others learn the value of an education.

Juan's struggles were not unique. They are played out every day in the border states, and now in many other states with large populations of Latinos.

What is unique was the lesson that Juan learned about the value of education, and his own, personal climb out of ignorance and poverty. He wasn't handed an education, he earned it.

Such a story is a great example of what a person can accomplish when the educational system in the US is allowed to work, and the ideals of education can have free play.

There is a caveat, of course.

Juan, unfortunately, did not learn the most important lesson from his experiences. He never learned that self-worth and honor and education come from our personal struggles to achieve.

Instead, Juan learned that he would never have succeeded without learning that he was part of an oppressed class of people. He was taught, not in the values of self-determination, but in the values of class identity and unionism.

It's sad, really, that Juan's "education" got in the way of his own personal experiences and his determination to make a better life for himself. That was the lesson he should have learned. And that is what our educational system should be teaching.