When people ask what one another are thankful for, there are a variety of great answers. Family, is notably and rightfully among the top answers. Many people are thankful for their friends who’ve helped give them guidance. Others are thankful for a home and a place to lie their head, or the food that’s on their table. There are many things to be thankful for this holiday season – but the thing I’m most grateful for is a damn good education.
I grew up in an old coal town in Anthracite Pennsylvania, the area that provided the fuel to the steel furnaces in Bethlehem, Pittsburgh, and all along the Atlantic coast. However, when coal lost its luster and the jobs started to disappear, what remained behind was a bitter pill to swallow: high unemployment, roving families, low human capital, and an economic chop at the knees for the people there.
The downturns became very personal, too. My grandfathers, one a veteran of World War II and the other part of the labor force that helped supply them, were hammered by the downturn. So was my family as a whole. As the economic woe became leached into the family structure, the ties that bound became those that caused divides. I soon realized that I lived in troubled times.
Despite being at home being quite difficult, I always loved to be at school. It was a place to interact. It was a place to imagine. It was a place to challenge yourself. It was a place to have fun. It was a place to learn.
That’s because, despite the hardships, the area put forth an effort build decent schools and hire even better teachers. It’s difficult for me to think of a teacher who didn’t have a profound impact on me, even as the wages were as stagnate for them as the area was for us all. These teachers changed lives, mine included. That’s what drove me to the profession.
And I still live by an increasingly important maxim. I want the same for the future students of America as I wanted for myself: a damn good education.
So I entered college at a state school, funded by low-income grants and low-interest loans. I entered as a backcountry boy who thought he knew the world. I left a (hopefully) more refined one who learned that there is more to our complex society and structure than any four year degree could provide. But it did make me hungry to learn.
Education has provided a thirst for knowledge to not just memorize dates in a history book or study math sentences until they start to look like English ones, but to conjure up images of a future. One that my grandparents wanted for me. A damn good education, mind you.
I only hope that we preserve this for posterity, our future.. In fact I worry about it a bit too much.
As the superintendent at our schools says to me – “we’re entering a period of educational Renaissance” – he sounds a bit too optimistic. I worry about students like me. Tough situations in tough neighborhoods – not just in rural Pennsylvania, but in every major city, suburb, and enclave throughout the world – prevent students from succeeding instead of serving as its launching pad. I also worry about their ability to pay for 4-year colleges out of their own pockets. Because they, too, deserve a damn good education to be thankful for.