South Carolina is in a terrible educational mess. A recent ranking of the state, by a partisan organization has put the state at the bottom of the heap (in education that is). It is difficult to be number 51 (D.C. included). Let’s dispense with the “money doesn’t matter” discussion. Of course money matters, if used correctly. However, this is not just a matter of resources. This is a matter of the lives of the next generation of South Carolinians.
Our brief sojourn here has now lasted about four months. We are not usually given to quick judgements about a place in this short space of time. The newspapers are rife with descriptions of how poorly many counties in the state are doing. The statistics are almost horrifying. Try this one on for size. Of the 4.6 million residents of the state, a full 25% are on Medicaid. This gives us some idea of how poverty stricken people are here.
Is there a connection between poverty and education? If you have never seen any of the studies, it’s time for you to go onto Google, or Dogpile or any other search engine and take a look. It is disheartening to see the effects poverty has on how well kids do in school and how they fare in the workplace afterwards.
Despite all of the stories about how individuals climbed out of poverty to lead successful lives, those are really are the exceptions. One small story from our own experience gives us and idea of what is really going on in certain communities.
We got a call earlier in the year from the son of the billionaire that we had worked with. He had funded a scholarship program for poor rural kids. The son wanted us to help two young people from North Philadelphia with college problems. One young lady had no idea of how she was going to get into college and how to fund it. The other was a young man who had attended a state college and wanted to go back for a second year, but was behind the eight ball with debt to the school of $9,000. The first student finally got into a historically black college and is doing well. However, the young man had a huge problem.
He was frightened of staying in his community because he most surely been coerced or threatened to do things that he did not want to do. He was actually fearful of staying there. In his mind, he had one chance to escape and that was to go back to the state college. His situation was very complicated, but working together with him and his mom, Carol was able to reduce the debt. We really wanted him to go to a community college for a year and work and save some dough, so that he could go back to the state school the following year.
We found out that he went back to the state college this year because of his desire to get out of the community he lived in. He is a good student, but we have no idea how he might pay for school from this point on. Will he be one of the exceptions? We pray that he is. However, many of these kinds of stories do not have a happy ending. For every one exception, there are many kids who fall through the cracks and wind up on the wrong side of the law or the poverty train.
Despite the tall tales, by some, of how they lifted themselves out of poverty by their own bootstraps, I defy you to try and do that. I have tried with an old pair of boots and the only thing that happens is that you fall forward and land on your face.
Let’s leave the tale tellers to their stories and start dealing with the realities of life. We need to do something about what’s happening in schools here in South Carolina and elsewhere. Let’s not argue about who or what shall do it, let’s just do it.