I got a haircut today and was chatting with the hairdresser, who said some really interesting things about education. She’s a middle-aged woman, probably had a working-class upbringing based on number of “ain’ts” in common conversation. Her mom had a 4th grade education and her dad didn’t quite finish high school. She’s got two kids, both in their early 20s now, and we were chatting about nothing in particular when the subject of education came up. She said that she moved out of the city because her daughters weren’t learning anything at school. Everything seemed fine until one year she had a parent-teacher conference and was told that both her daughters were below average for the school, which was below average for the state. She said she felt like a terrible mother: how could she not have known they were in trouble? So immediately she moved out of the city to a smaller town with better schools and hired a tutor for her girls. She said that with one year of tutoring help after school, her daughters improved 3 grade levels each until they were back on track in school.
Here’s what I found really interesting about this story. This is not a woman who has a lot of experience with the education system; she was first in her family to graduate high school and neither she nor either of her girls went to college. She may have hired a tutor because she wasn’t able to help the girls herself. And yet, she instinctively values education, enough to pick up her whole life and move, because she would do anything for her kids and she sees education as something worth sacrificing for. She also knows how to help them, and works to get them the help they need. She could still tell me today the areas her daughters had the most trouble in (reading comprehension and test-taking skills). This woman didn’t have a lot, but what she did have she was going to use for her kids’ schooling, matter-of-fact and no-questions-asked. It made me feel good for her girls, whose mom knew how to get them out of a bad situation to better their future. And it made me feel so sad for the kids left behind in that school, whose parents, because of unfamiliarity with the education system, lack of funds, or lack of knowledge, couldn’t do for their children what this woman did for hers.