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Dark Education Trends

My wife had her New Day sustainability breakfast on Friday morning.  The agenda is to provide a forum for everyone to come together to share grassroot ideas about improving community.  They often have several speakers.  One speaker this week was from the United Way.

I was surprised to hear a United Way speaker would be at their grass roots meeting.  K was also surprised.  But afterward, she came away impressed - and disturbed.

The speaker, a woman whose name and position I can't recall - told of the education system's failures.  Here's what my wife passed on to me.

- Oregon ranks dead last in high school graduation rates among all states.

- Jackson County, where I live, is last in graduation rates in Oregon.

- The graduation rate of the special at risk high schools is zero.

- If a child falls behind on their reading level by the third grade, they probably will not ever catch up.  Their chances of graduating falls to 30%.

That was stunning information.  Yet it makes sense when thinking illuminates Oregon and Jackson County.  Ashland, where I live in southern Oregon, is comfortably middle class but there is a huge schism.  Most of us that are comfortable are either retirees who relocated here from other locations and have pensions, or professional services such as lawyers and investment bankers.  There's a huge income gap after that.  Little industry except for agriculture, tourism and services exist so economic engines to help perpetuate improvements are small.  Southern Oregon has a large meth problem, with meth labs and meth heads in abundance.  Social workers report how deeply entrenched the cycle of abuse has become. 

The United Way speaker said, too many times the people involved are already in the jar.  Ways of getting them out of the jar to help them see, are necessary to change the trends we're seeing.

I absolutely agree with this.  When you're in a jar of existence - a bubble, or a maze, as I've referred to them in other posts - it's hard to see the possibilities.  Your bubble, maze or jar not only defines who you are and how you think but what you can become and what you can achieve. 

The challenge becomes how do you break the jar?  How do you get people out of their mazes or burst their bubbles of isolation?  My social group, Brains on Beer - BoB to those familiar with it - have been collecting money and giving them to schools.  Our goal is to invest in science programs to encourage children to pursue science and engineering as vocational choices.  Several of the teachers we worked with ended up joining our group, on the basis that they like beer and science. 

That's a small, small step to help.  The United Way chapter summarized their own efforts as a goal to improve the situation by focusing on graduating the fifth grade class and getting them into college.  This group of students are expected to graduate in 2020 so it will be a long time before success can be measured.  Some fourth and sixth grader parents are upset.  They see their children being ignored.  Unfortunately, a choice was made, and it was random, the fifth graders are who the United Way would focus on.  The 4th grader parents will likely see a trickle down effect but that won't be the case for the sixth graders....

Identifying the problem is the first step.  Learing more about and educating others is the second step.  The next step will be to learn how I can help and then I'll need to commit myself to helping.

My motives are selfish.  I don't worry about who will take care of me in my old age - if I ever do grow old - or who will run the country or the state in the future.  I just want these children to enjoy the amazing pleasure of learning and discovering how knowledge and education can open your eyes.  Just when you think your eyes are as open as they can be, you learn more, and they open wider.  Everyone should know that pleasure.  I'm telling you, it's better than chocolate or sex or the two combined.  Do your own research and you'll see what I mean....