We Must Keep Youth Thirsting for Education

Article excerpt

Rosa M. Jones, the 72-year-old mother of five children, received a Bachelor of Science degree in interdisciplinary studies from Norfolk State University in December 1999. Her accomplishment would have been notable at any age, under any circumstances, since fewer than 15 percent of all African Americans over age 25 hold college degrees (compared to more than 25 percent among Whites). But Jones' accomplishment was all the more stellar because she earned her degree after having sent all five of her children to college.

Rosa Jones isn't the only one whose thirst for education propelled her back to the classroom. My friend and colleague Susan Taylor, editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine, found that the title "editor" wasn't enough, so she pursued her studies, receiving a B.S. from Fordham University in 1991. My own mom, Proteone Marie Malveaux, pursued doctoral studies at the same time I was a college freshman, completing everything but her dissertation and taking a junior faculty position at the University of Mississippi when she was in her mid-40s. Some people simply thirst for education, hunger to know more, and are prepared to do whatever they have to do to quench the thirst.

Too many others are educationally indifferent. Their indifference is not of their own making. All too often, listless or shoddy teaching has turned them off from education. The desire to learn is often strangled by dilapidated school buildings, metal detectors at the door, racist or trifling teachers who are devoid of caring, disinterested (or overwhelmed) parenting and other factors. Still, it is amazing that some of the same school systems that produced Rosa Jones, Susan Taylor and Marie Malveaux also produced folks who don't give a hoot about learning. And unfortunately, the disease of educational malaise and indifference is striking African Americans at younger and younger ages. We who care about higher education need to work much harder to make the connection between K-12 education and higher education. The youngster who is turned off at 10 won't be attending college, much less graduating.

Now, more than ever, it matters that African Americans of every age have access to institutions of higher education. The jobs of the 21st century increasingly require more education and preparation. Yet when we look at some of the fastest growing fields, many of which are in computers, engineering or science, African Americans are under-represented. It is appropriate to consider the Digital Divide, but it is equally important to consider the difference in K-12 school quality, and the fact that inner-city schools have a fraction of the resources and amenities that suburban schools have.

Aspects of the education reform movement address this, but too many think that vouchers and charter schools are the only way to bridge the gap. …

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