What’s Your Perspective on Education and Schooling?

Finland. Poland. Cuba. Vocational training. What is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of school?

A short while ago I asked a few colleagues, peers, and friends to share their perspectives on race and money.

Now, we’ll spend some time hearing a few perspectives on education.

Feel free to connect if you’d like to share yours!

Name: Anonymous
Birth Decade: 1970s
Location of Elementary School: Houston, Texas
Location of Post-secondary Studies: Cambridge, MA & Cape Town, South Africa  Continue reading “What’s Your Perspective on Education and Schooling?”

11 Things International Applicants Should Know Before Applying to Graduate School

English proficiency exams. Visa restrictions. Residency requirements. Funding options. Summer commitments. Important deadlines.

What should you know before you apply to graduate school?

In 2017 The National Foundation for American Policy reported that international students dominate STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduate degree programs.

According to their report, 81% of full-time graduate students in electrical and petroleum engineering programs in the U.S. are international students. In full-time, graduate level, computer science programs, 79% of the students are international.

1. You should know whether you can be successful in a graduate program conducted entirely in English. You should know which English proficiency exam is required for entry.

For domestic applicants, a complete application generally includes the following:

  1. Application fee or fee waiver (if available)
  2. Completed application
  3. Three letters of recommendation who can speak to your academic ability (ideally former professors)
  4. GRE or GMAT official test scores (typically no more than 5 years old)
  5. Official transcripts from all universities previously attended
  6. Personal statement, letter of intent, or statement of purpose
  7. Resume or CV

For international applicants, a complete application includes #1- #7 above PLUS a TOEFL or IELTS score report (typically no more than 2 years old).
TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System.
Not all programs accept the TOEFL. Not all programs accept the IELTS.
Find out which one you’re required to take.

Find out whether there’s a minimum score required for admission.
Assess your reading, writing, and speaking ability.  Continue reading “11 Things International Applicants Should Know Before Applying to Graduate School”

We Need To Have A Conversation About Education.

Accredited. WIOA. Title IX. Common Core. We need to have a conversation about education.

When she had an epileptic seizure during Science, I thought she was faking.

She was coy, but always considerate. If my frustration ever showed, I’d return from lunch to find an apple on my desk and a sticky note scribbled with crayon. It was important that I acknowledge her, and she was more than pleased to be praised.

If she hadn’t been so poor they’d have thought her beautiful. She bragged about her IEP and said people gave her free stuff because of it. She’d stolen money from my purse once, and left an apology sticky with a sad face as the signature.

The pounding was horrifying and dramatic. They caught the desk just in time as she fell, her head hitting the floor with such ferocity that we winced in unison. The collapse, the writhing, the motionlessness– I was fixated, but unable to move.  Continue reading “We Need To Have A Conversation About Education.”

Top 10 Things You Should Know (or Do) Before You Apply to College

Graduates, what would you add? What would you recommend?

My sister is the eldest of us three, so I was in middle school when she started high school. Whenever she’d head off to a college fair or tour, I always wanted to go with her.

I loved the booths, the information packets, and the welcome sessions. I loved the orientations, the “O” weeks, and the seminars. I loved the FAFSA workshops and the Intro courses.

I loved the energy, the excitement, and the buzz! I even loved the overpriced college t-shirts, the key chains, and the mugs. I couldn’t wait until it was my turn.

Despite my growing disenchantment with higher education (College isn’t the answer.) — which has more to do with school funding, politics, and politickin’ than the institutions themselves— there’s very little I would do differently (except probably more sand volleyball. I’d definitely do more of that).

Before you venture off to college, I think there are a few things you should know (or do) first: Continue reading “Top 10 Things You Should Know (or Do) Before You Apply to College”

College Isn't the Answer (but the answers might be there)

A few months ago I had an afternoon meeting that was scheduled down the street from my alma mater. Since I was still on the clock but the drive back  was treacherous, I wandered over to the Student Center to finish out the day.
I graduated from college almost 13 years ago. Since returning to my home state, this was my first real visit.
I hated college.
It was too conservative. It was too liberal. It was too small; it was too big. We took ourselves too seriously. I took myself too seriously. It was a predominately white institution and there were plenty who took it upon themselves to remind us that we weren’t welcome. I know that I wasn’t supposed to, but I took that ish personally.
On top of that my clothes were always too tight. And I was weird.
And not in the cool, hip, self-aware kind of way that I am now. Not in the Robin Williams kind of way. I shared too much. I didn’t share enough. I was always worried about being invited and having a seat at the table.
I liked MMMbop and boy bands. I wanted to meet Robert Frost. I liked Beowulf. I could quote Act 3, Scene 2 from the Friends, Romans, countrymen monologue by heart (and I was proud of that!).
I was a white evangelical Christian (more on that later). 
Sitting in the lobby, now 13 years my senior, I realized that everything they say about college is true. College isn’t the answer, but the answers might actually be there.
1. Identity & Culture
On Who You Are & Why That Matters 
Finding yourself takes time. Some might argue that it is a luxury. In college, you have more time at your disposal. More time to craft the schedule that suits you and to choose the hobbies, activities, and events that you enjoy. Not every school is the same, but on the whole, there are more opportunities for self-expression and self-discovery in college than in any job I’ve ever known. And I’ve had more than 22.
2. Leadership
On Who’s In Charge & What That Means 
Due to sheer quantity and proximity, there are more examples of leadership to choose from, emulate, or critique. You can develop solid mentors and create meaningful networks that will sustain you for a lifetime.
My college friends were fearless. I looked up to them; I learned from them. It wasn’t so much their confidence that I admired, but their ability to craft a plan and to execute it. They were detailed and meticulous. Their theories were well-researched, evidence-based, and sustainable. They were thoughtful, compassionate, and wise. They were business savvy, entrepreneurial, and had emotional intelligence.
Good leaders are everywhere; they’re not solely reserved for academic, potentially elitist spaces. But good leaders are bred and fed by their communities, and because of the communal aspect that college can provide + opportunities to explore identity and culture; we may find our leaders there.
3. Work/Life Balance
Because Work is Not a Marriage 
I went to college four times (but it wasn’t completely intentional). The first was undergrad. The second was dual enrollment in an Alternative Teaching Certification program and a graduate program in elementary education. The third was law school. The fourth was a Master’s in Instructional Leadership/Education Policy.
The first, second, and third were private. The fourth was public. If I can say so without disrespecting my alma maters, I didn’t learn very much. It wasn’t the school’s fault. It wasn’t necessarily my fault either.
I say this to say that sometimes it can take us more time than we think to find a career or to make a life that satisfies us. Sometimes it’s because we weren’t thoughtful and intentional. Sometimes it’s because we were. Sometimes it’s the recession’s fault. Sometimes it’s our mom’s. (Just kidding momma.)
Sometimes work/life balance is simple. You just need a shorter commute. You need time for a walk. You want a closer gym. You need a closer grocery store. You need a more flexible schedule. You need time for naps. You want your friends closer. You need someone to play volleyball with.
Voila! College (usually) has it all. Work/life balance solved.
4. Relationships 
Because I’m Not Making Two Trips 
At the risk of sounding unromantic or crass, it really is a numbers game. The more opportunities for love/marriage, the greater your chances (if love/marriage is your aim).
I hated dating. I was weird and melodramatic. I didn’t like being touched. At my small liberal arts school it was hard to find people I could connect with; in the years afterwards it was considerably harder.
If for no other reason than proximity and access, college has the answers here too.

What is Enough?

It was an unusual staff meeting. They were scheduled quarterly, but this– the morning after we heard the news– seemed especially frivolous, especially insignificant.
When he won the nomination I knew he would win the presidency. There’s a pervasive “me first” culture I see and hear (and, regretfully, sometimes participate in when it suits me) that seems overwhelming. Diplomacy and objectivity don’t bode well with selfishness.
Despite my prediction, this morning was emotionally devastating. I lost the will to get up, to participate, to contribute. I didn’t want positive speeches by rich, privileged CEOs who would never have to experience the real-life, trickle down effects of the politics of exclusion. I didn’t want to see colleagues feigning disappointment, waxing poetic about activism, or pretending to be disenchanted.
This was Lord of the Flies all over again. This was The Summer of My German Soldier absent the love affair and with greater emphasis on grief and war.
She chose her words carefully, but purposely. We were a diverse bunch. More than 200 staff members in attendance. There were visitors from Australia who worked with refugees and undocumented immigrants. There were accountants, VPs, Directors, Chancellors, case managers, teachers, and social workers. Many of whom with a recently changed citizenship status themselves. Many of whom who were bilingual, bi-cultural, or biracial.
All of us were employees of a nonprofit community center in the heart of Houston, in the heart of Texas. The day after the end of the world, if there was ever a group that could offer solace: this would be it. Superficially if nothing more, this was the kind of safe space I needed. (Even if it was too soon to connect, to mourn, and to publicly & collectively grieve).
“This isn’t a bipartisan issue. This isn’t about race, culture, or hometown. This isn’t about what side of the tracks you come from or on what side of the ocean you were raised. I truly believe there are two groups of people. Two distinct worldviews, two distinct camps.
You either believe, truly believe, that there is enough to go around, or you don’t. You believe there is enough opportunity, enough resources, enough power, enough wealth, enough freedom, enough love, or you don’t. You either believe there is enough for everyone or you don’t.”
It was the first time I’d ever considered it in those terms, but I completely, whole-heartedly agreed.
What is enough?
I struggle with privilege. It’s a simple idea I think, but one that’s deeply rooted in who we are and how we live. I want to believe that my successes, however trivial, have been engineered by my own ingenuity. That my sacrifices, my discipline (few and far between), and my dedication have set me apart and made me special. (LOL, right?)
I want to believe that my commitment to education and to service have made an impact and have changed lives. I want to believe that I have changed lives. And more than anything, I want (wanted) to be seen as an individual. The struggle. (More on that later.)
In less than a year my parents will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Neither of them will be 60 years old. To me (but perhaps more importantly, statistically), their union is significant:

  1. Educational attainment and family structure are inextricably linked.
  2. On average, children of married couples a) complete more years of schooling, b) are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and complete college, c) are less likely to demonstrate behavioral problems in school, d) are more proficient in Math & Science (random, right?), and e) are 85% less likely to be in special education classes than children from single-parent households.
  3. Children of two-parent households experience greater lifetime earnings, are more involved in community activities, and are more likely to take advantage of opportunities outside of school.
  4. Children who live with both parents are also 20-35% healthier than those from other family structures.
  5. Children of married couples are 82% less likely than their counterparts to live in poverty. EIGHTY-TWO PERCENT LESS LIKELY.

I believe there is enough.
I also believe there are people who don’t want us to believe it, and who would do anything to keep us in the dark and to keep us in competition with each other. Worse still, there are those who feel entitled to keep it from the rest of us because they believe they matter more. They believe their children matter more. They believe they are more significant.
I want to believe, but I am doubtful, that this (or they) can be changed.
What is enough? 

United States Education (We’re Number… 14?)

We need to have a conversation about education.

According to the 2016 Pearson rankings of the best education systems in the world, the United States ranks 14th on the list. South Korea, Japan and Singapore rank first, second, and third respectively.

Compulsory education is not mandated in each of the 196 countries that exist throughout the world, and among those countries in which children are required to attend school, it is not always a requirement that students attend school for a specific number of days each academic year, as is the case in the United States.

Compulsory education in the United States is traced back to philosophies that evolved during the Reformation. In 1524 Martin Luther proposed that mandatory school laws should be enacted so that Christians could learn to read the Bible on their own.

Massachusetts passed a similar law in 1647 while still a British colony; and then in 1852, it was the first state to enact a compulsory education law. Parents who refused this new requirement could be (and sometimes were) stripped of their parental rights.

Following the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Britain’s former colonies that had broken away from Europe were finally recognized as the United States of America: a new nation. Over time new states were added across North America and the once thirteen colonies because independent states– what we now know as the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Continue reading “United States Education (We’re Number… 14?)”

Special Education: On Power and Privilege

We need to have a conversation about education.

When she had an epileptic seizure during science, I thought she was faking.

She was coy, but always considerate. If my frustration ever showed, I’d return from lunch to find an apple on my desk and a sticky note scribbled with crayon. It was important that I acknowledge her, and she was more than pleased to be appreciated.

If she hadn’t been so poor they’d have thought her beautiful. She bragged about her IEP and said people gave her free stuff because of it. She’d stolen money from my purse once, and left an apology sticky with a sad face as the signature.

The pounding was horrifying and dramatic.

They caught the desk just in time as she fell, her head hitting the floor with such ferocity that we winced in unison. The collapse, the writhing, the motionlessness– I was fixated, but unable to move. The rest of the class was unfazed.

Having attended grade school together, they instantly went to work. They knew where to hold her and what to hold still. They knew who to contact and where to find help. When it was over they comforted her, gently rubbed her back, gracefully repositioned her, and finished their science test.  Continue reading “Special Education: On Power and Privilege”

Dropout Prevention

We need to have a conversation about education.

I started teaching at the Women’s Correctional Facility because it seemed cool, and it appealed to my sense of adventure.

Civilians were sorted into lines: four metal detectors on the way in, three on the way out. I couldn’t bring soft drinks or cell phones.

When asked where I worked, I’d just say 26th & California and watch as people’s eyes would raise.

I met Mike in a GED-tutoring program a few months later. He was a former track star and aspiring educator. He’d always competed fiercely with his brother– and had always won.

One night while he was sleeping, his brother shot him twice in the head. Mike was left with brain damage, cognitive delay, a speech impediment, and a spotty criminal record for substance abuse.

Patrick was 36 and just released from a 20-year sentence for pre-meditated murder. He’d been tried as an adult. In high school he was bullied severely, jumped and beaten to the point of unconsciousness.

Left to bleed and die in the street, he was found by strangers, and hospitalized with a coma. The only thing that kept him alive was his lust for vengeance. He vowed that if he lived, he would kill the people who had done that to him.

So he did.  Continue reading “Dropout Prevention”

South Korea, Japan & Singapore

We need to have a conversation about education.

According to Pearson’s 2015-2016 findings, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore rank as the top three education systems in the world.

Education systems are evaluated using international assessments such as PISA, PIRLS, and TIMSS.
These results are paired with an assessment of literacy rates and graduation rates across each country.Among the 196 countries that exist worldwide, education policy differs on a range of issues: the age when children must enter school, the age when children must leave school, whether education is a fundamental right, how education is funded, how resources should be allocated among schools, what to include in the curriculum, and what the process should be for training and hiring educators.

Outlined below are a few key highlights from each of their successful systems. If you’re currently employed by or currently being educated at a school within these regions, I’d love to know your perception of the education system as a whole.

Continue reading “South Korea, Japan & Singapore”