Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 3, 2018

The Value of Education — to Writers, Readers, and Everyone Else

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash, apple and books, blocks and pencils

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What’s the value of education? Can anyone even put a value on education? I don’t think so. As far as I’m concerned, education is priceless.

From childhood, I’ve enjoyed reading and writing and learning. I loved school, loved the opportunities and challenges, and fumed with impatience when I got sick and had to stay home. At a time when women were not expected to have careers and most mothers did not work, schools in the United States nevertheless provided free public education for all children, girls as well as boys. The progressive suburban school system I attended did not shunt girls into business or other courses considered standard for future housewives but encouraged us to take whatever subjects we wanted, including advanced math and science courses. The civil rights movement not only opened doors for blacks and minorities but for girls and women as well. And just in time for me. I would’ve been unfulfilled and discontented as a stay-at-home housewife. I wanted higher education, and I wanted a career.

During my first year of college I realized how fortunate I was in my high school education. The courses my fellow college students struggled with were easy for me because of the advanced courses my high school had offered. I had received an exceptional high school education, and I valued it and the career it enabled me to pursue.

From its beginning, the United States has recognized the importance of learning and education. Our country’s founders recognized the value of an informed citizenry. The civil rights movement fought for the right to equal education. Immigrants sought education for their children. All states provide free education.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash, black students in classroom

Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash

Such is not the case in all countries. Education is inadequate or unavailable to many children around the world. Ironically, too many of those to whom a good education is provided no longer seem to value it as much as those given inadequate education or denied education altogether. We take for granted what many crave but cannot have.

Let’s face it — free education isn’t really free. Providing education to all children is an ever-improving process that requires a large number of people, supplies and equipment, and a lot of effort. All of that costs money.

So, how important is education to you? To what lengths would you go to gain an education for yourself or others? Would you seek education even if it was banned, like Malala Yousafzai? She continued to go to school and advocate for female education despite the personal danger. She survived an assassination attempt and continued to speak out. This Pakistani teenager brought the world’s attention to the importance of education for all children and became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. The world is fortunate that this young woman has had the courage and will to advocate for education. How many of us would do the same?

Yesterday’s news got me thinking about the state of education in this country. Recent legislatures and governing officials (few of whom have any teaching experience) love to set requirements for education but lack the courage to fund those requirements. Instead, they seek popularity by reducing already inadequate funding for education and many other vital programs. Schools must do more with less money, with the result that teachers are laid off and others get no raises, students are squeezed into overcrowded classrooms where they can get little individual attention, books and supplies are lacking, and school buildings and buses aren’t properly maintained. [I could continue this list, but you get the point.]

I was heartened to see yesterday’s news story about the teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky following the example of the teachers in West Virginia whose nine-day walk-out won them an long overdue raise. [I challenge anyone who does not feel that teachers earn their pay to take on a high school teacher’s job for two weeks. That includes lunch and bus duty and study halls as well as preparing and teaching classes, creating and grading tests, quizzes, and assignments, and maintaining discipline. I know a person who took the alternate route to teaching who resigned in less than two weeks because the job was more work, took more time, and was a lot harder than anticipated.]

These teachers, however, are not only concerned about their neglected raises, but about education funding in general. I was dumbfounded to learn that education funding in Oklahoma had decreased 28% in the last ten years. Setting aside teachers’ salaries, the other costs of education have certainly not gone down during that time. Instead, both the prominence of pricey, ever-improving technology in our businesses and our lives and the increasing need for school security measures have required hikes in school budgets. In a world where education is increasingly necessary, how can anyone justify decreasing its funding? Or keeping it at the same level?

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash, math problems on blackboard, school

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

A couple weeks ago we had a local special election to consider a school bond issue. Despite the fact that the high school badly needs a new roof, additional classrooms to relieve overcrowding, and renovations to provide school security (which is unbelievably abysmal), the local townships have voted these improvements down for the last several years. While I don’t like paying more taxes any more than the next person, I know the value of education and adequate educational facilities, so I voted for the bond issue (which means a small tax increase). This year, much to my astonishment, the bond issue finally passed. I suspect that the recent school shootings, especially the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, convinced more people to vote for the measure instead of against it. Sad that it takes something like that to get people to do what is best for the community.

The day after the election, my husband and I went out to breakfast with seven retired friends, all of whom had voted against the bond issue. Some resented paying for schools when they no longer have children in school. (Please note: the taxes you pay while your child is in school don’t come near the cost of the education.) A few thought the school could do without the improvements. (These people ought to visit the school during a rain storm.) Others felt that retired people should not have to pay increases in taxes. (I can empathize with that, but a bit of belt-tightening is worth the benefit to the community.) My husband and I were the only ones who have voted “yes.” When one friend asked why, I pointed out the sore need to secure the building so that any random person who wanted to get in wouldn’t be able. Our friend responded that such incidents couldn’t happen in our semi-rural community. Strange how after each school shooting at least one person in the town has commented to reporters that they never thought such a thing could happen in their community. We should realize by now that such tragedies can occur in any community.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash, silhouette of boy reading

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

As I see it, the difficulties in adequately funding education are:

  1. good education is expensive
  2. the funds for education come from taxes
  3. no one likes to pay taxes
  4. politicians disregard fiscal responsibility and reduce taxes so they can win reelection
  5. education is usually one of the first things to have its funding cut

Education is so important that it should be the first thing funded. It would be ideal if we could come up with a way to fund education other than taxes, a way that does not depend on the whims and special interests of politicians. I have no ideas about how to achieve this, but maybe some of you do.

Until then, as a writer, I must support providing a quality education to our children and be willing to sacrifice a little to pay for it. Writing would have little worth without readers, and education creates those readers. Education also enables writers to do their best work. We writers need to become vocal advocates for education and education funding. And so should readers.

Indeed, every citizen should be a supporter of providing the best education possible. A well-educated population is vital to a country’s robust economy, government, and society. Education creates discerning citizens and voters who can make sound judgements at the polls.

What is education worth? Every penny it costs.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash, school bus

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

 


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