by Sarah Owen
No matter what side of the party line you’re on, the year 2017 feels like it’s made up of pressing issues—bipartisanship, fake news, government corruption, etc. Unfortunately, I’m writing this to add another pressing issue to your list: education equity— the right to equal access to education despite race, sex/gender, region, or class.
Access to fair and adequate education is a fundamental right human￼, and it affects everyone and everything in our state. Most obviously, it affects the child and the larger communities’ economic life. School teaches patriotism and citizenship, shaping the way our communities engage with one another. Through physical and sexual education, schools affect health. In fact, Brown Elementary’s, the school with which Millsaps has a longstanding relationship, school garden even affects the way people eat in Midtown.
After spending a year and a half reading about, writing on and advocating for education equity, I would argue that it is one of the largest issues facing Mississippi in the coming years.
This past year, the senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Not only did she fail to answer basic questions about education policy, but she also has radical unconventional, and harmful views on what education should look like in America. We are at a time of major transition in education policy, which I will attempt to boil down into two questions: should we stick with the old public school system or not? If not, whom should this new system benefit? Over the past two years, Mississippi has built a charter school system but this early in the process, we can’t be sure if this is helping or hurting the state of education in Mississippi.
I would argue education inequality intersects with almost every societal inequality. Over the past year, I have aided in establishing a chapter of Students for Education Reform (SFER) at Millsaps. Across the country, SFER chapters are working on a variety of issues, including the deportation of students, bathroom rights, and for adequate funding, but education reform works on a state and local level.
In Mississippi, our education system developed around race discrimination and has failed to support students, especially children of color. Mississippi leads the South in black student suspicions, ranks 48th in per student funding, 50th in terms of student achievement, and 50th in terms of human capital. Mississippi is holding itself back both economically and socially by systematically holding back its most valuable resource: students.
Education can help build infrastructure by building the workforce. Every brilliant and capable young person in Mississippi is another reason for a company to move here. However, our school system fails to nourish these young minds which means that they cannot blossom.
For a state that professes being so business friendly, Mississippi has done little to ensure it has the workforce these business need. Because of this lack of opportunities and systemic discrimination, people have left Mississippi in droves. Moreover, our citizenship education is greatly lacking in my experience. In fact, Mississippi struggles with high corruption and has a long history of populist governors who do little to help our school system and children. Improving education is a necessary first (but by no means final step) in improving Mississippi both financially and politically.
So I call on you, Millsaps, to stand up for the students of Mississippi. Volunteer in public schools. Call your legislators. Attend to school board meeting. Make a difference on a local level. Change Mississippi.