As an elementary school teacher at an inner-city school in Rochester, N.Y., I struggled with how to effectively convey to my third-grade students the power of an education. Growing up, the message I perceived from teachers was that more education equaled more wealth. Although it was important for me to emphasize the value of an education to my students, I could not, in good conscience, propagate this message that simply earning a higher income was the end-goal of their education.
One blustery January day it occurred to me how to convey the importance of an education to my young charges. Since the weather was too miserable to venture outside for recess, I allowed students to have recess in the classroom. Students could choose from activities like computers, playing with clay, reading, and math games. To avoid overcrowding and the conflict that would ensue, I limited the number of students who could sign up for each activity. Those who had behaved best during the day were allowed to sign up for their desired activity first.
Naturally, a few students were disgruntled because they did not get to choose their first- or even secondchoice activity and simply had to sign up for whatever activity remained available when it was finally their turn. While addressing these attitudes of frustration, I highlighted that the children who made good choices and consistently demonstrated appropriate classroom behavior had their choice of whatever activity they liked for indoor recess. Conversely, children who made poor choices had fewer options from which to choose.
This scenario in my third-grade classroom was analogous to the real-world situation of achieving an education. While the correlation between level of education and income is well established, studies also reveal that high school graduates have higher rates of life satisfaction than those who do not graduate. Further, high school graduates have more career choices than noncompleters, and college graduates have more career options than their peers without a college degree.
The message is quite simple: Education opens doors and allows individuals greater choice over their destiny. I finally had a way to communicate to my students the power of an education—one they could wrap their inquisitive third-grade minds around.
We cannot choose our families, manipulate our level of intelligence, or dictate the circumstances into which we are born. It is undeniable that some children are born with more advantage than others; some school systems are better than others; graduates from some universities have greater hiring potential than others. As the "system" is certainly far from perfect, we are often reminded in the news and by politicians of everything that is wrong. Consequently, it's easy to take for granted or overlook what is good here in the United States.
I was reminded of how blessed we are in this country while completing my dissertation as a doctoral candidate at Regent University. While investigating the role of resilience and educational persistence in South Sudanese refugees living in Virginia, the participants in my study made some very profound observations about educational opportunities in the United States. One participant stated, "Your future achievement is not determined by your IQ, but I think by your will and endurance." Other participants were elated that student loans were available, which allowed them the opportunity to finance an education they otherwise could not afford. One participant observed, "Some people, especially those born here, don't see opportunity because they were born in opportunity." This is a powerful and insightful observation made by a young man who spent most of his formative years seeking to simply survive in refugee camps. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to truly appreciate and value the opportunities readily available.
Regent University has played an instrumental role in educating and equipping thousands of young men and women born within and outside the United States. And while statistics suggest that—as individuals with undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degrees—we have the opportunity to earn more income than our contemporaries without these degrees, this is not the overall power and purpose of an education. The real power of an education is the increased freedom of choice, the exponential opportunities and the additional doors that are open to us. As university graduates, we have the power to choose—to use the knowledge gained and the credentials earned to serve, to advocate for, and ultimately to bring change and hope to the hurting world around us.
Lucinda Spaulding earned her Ph.D. in Special Education and Educational Psychology from the Regent University School of Education in 2009. She lives in Lynchburg, Va., with her husband and three children and is an associate professor in the School of Education at Liberty University.
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