Thursday, May 1, 2008

Education & Income Inequality, Or Vice Versa?

Here's another topic I've touched on in previous posts: education. We definitely need education reform in this country, however you cannot have a conversation about education reform without a conversation in income inequality. The reason is because they feed off of one another, and at this point in time, they are spiraling downward.

How can you afford to support yourself and your family with no education? How can you afford to go to college - and graduate - without money?

How much should we spend per child to get them to their grade level for reading, writing and math?

Should we ditch those subjects in favor of teaching technology?

These are some of the issues being thrown around in education circles. I hear both sides of the last question given that I run the computer lab at a K-8 school. I recently attended a conference over Spring Break for technology in education, and I left feeling somewhat frustrated. One of the last classes I attended was about the Technology Assessment that is now mandated by the Arizona Dept. of Education (ADE). This is a great start to show the importance of teaching technology, internet safety and copyright issues, however there is this bandwagon that people are jumping on with the idea that we should ditch the traditional education standards for something more "modern". There are some who feel that books are dead.

There is one problem I see with that logic: what good is a users manual for computer software to be electronic, if you need to use it because the computer will not start? There is a reason why software manuals are still written as books. You can get digital copies, however there are instances where you will want the bound copies at your fingertips.

The English language is also not dead, in place of the "shorthand" used for text-messaging and instant messaging, because there is still a need to communicate world-wide with others who may not understand these fad languages.

Personally, my opinion is we would do better to teach children how to read (and eventually be able to read the software manuals themselves) than just simply which buttons to push. If you have ever used Microsoft Office, think of the difference between versions 2000, 2003 and 2007 for Windows and you'll understand what I'm talking about. The 2007 version is almost so completely different from the previous versions, you need to read the manual on it to understand it.

The next item within education is the quality of education based upon the income of the child's family. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that there is a difference in the quality of education received in schools based upon the income levels of the families attending public schools. There are exceptions to the rule on this, where schools in the low income neighborhoods are making a difference. Unfortunately it is because these schools do not have the financial support of wealthy parents they cannot offer more opportunities to the students than what the financially strapped school districts can provide.

Now, to talk about income inequality. This basically means, to use an old phrase, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". There is a larger gap between those who are considered to be successful in their lives and those who are not. The recession issues now occurring in the U.S. are driving the point home to more people, as those who have not felt the pinch at the pump, or the rising cost of food, feel it more acutely than they are now.

The reason for this is because those who are more successful, and actually have the cash to back up their lifestyle, are more insulated from downturns in the economy than those who are living paycheck to paycheck. I did make one caveat in this: they must have the cash to keep their lifestyle. This is where the term "big hat, no cattle" plays an important role. This is a phrase I learned in the book, "The Millionaire Next Door". It means they have a lot of expensive toys, but are cash poor and are putting a fake front on their lifestyle. Those who live this way are walking a tightrope and the number of foreclosures on expensive homes is a good indicator as to whom these people are.

For those who do have the cash, this downturn in the economy is only a small dent in their pocketbooks.

I'll post more on this conversation later...

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