Universities, public and private, are wrestling with affirmative action. Not just ‘still’ but seemingly more so than ever. For most colleges, having a well-rounded student body is a priority. Efforts are made to seek out and (sometimes) care for students that might not find their way to the institution on their own. There are development programs, public and private, that partner with higher education to help nurture underrepresented students and increase their chances of academic success. Universities should always look to create a student body that is representative of the world at large. But the fact that they must go to the efforts they do (to seek them out) suggests that there are qualified students who are not bubbling up to the top. Once out of K-12 and nurtured in the university, these recruited students do quite well (why wouldn’t they?) Interestingly, college and university classes and life are far more challenging than anything in K-12. Ability is not the issue here, preparation is.
What does it say that in 2012 the K-12 playing field is so clearly inequitable that higher education affirmative action efforts not only need to exist, but need to increase? Yes, there will always be parents who have the means to throw every enrichment opportunity upon their child. And yes, there will always be children who simply do not have a stellar academic acumen. But then there’s everyone else, which really amounts to an awful lot of children. At a time when as a group we believe that higher education is the path to work-life success, can we allow for such disparities in preparation? Variety and rigor in science and mathematics courses vary widely across school systems. There are schools at which writing (not penmanship, but writing) is not taught beyond the rudimentary. High school students are not always assigned a smattering of classics to read. Now before the eyes start rolling; the reason an educated child needs to be exposed to the classics is not so they have something to discuss with grandma at Thanksgiving, but because it fosters their understanding of the world and culture and is a building block for higher level studies.
There are school systems that have all the technological bells and whistles that property taxes will allow. That’s fine, and maybe even results in higher comprehension, but it’s the sizzle of the issue not the steak. Curriculum and teacher talent is at the heart of the issue. Are there enough excellent teachers at each and every school in this country? Are there tutoring opportunities, effective guidance counselors, and an atmosphere of optimism? If we are sincere about wanting all children to succeed and want our nation to have a robust economy, it might be time to stop ignoring the inequities in public education and leaving it to colleges to amend.
*Kodachrome – Paul Simon (1973)