I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent higher education scandal. You know what I mean. The story that recently broke in the news in which we were shown proof that the rich and famous are able to buy their way into the best universities, whether or not they are prepared, equipped or eligible.
It was a public kick in the face to all of us who have used the regular route to college for our kids. You know: get decent grades, apply with a decent essay, apply for financial aid, hope for the best.
But it wasn’t a surprise to a lot of us to learn that the rich, powerful, famous elite are able to simply write a check in order to be given that which the rest of us have been struggling desperately to achieve.
I was not surprised.
I wasn’t even particularly outraged. I was kind of…..accepting. Head nodding. Yawning a bit.
And this is what I was thinking today.
The educational inequality of the United States starts way, way, way before we are paying our way into our most elite universities.
The educational inequality in the US starts at birth.
Today I spent an hour painting with my granddaughter. She is 3 years old. I am wealthy and privileged enough to be able to take care of her and her brother every day while their parents work.
I am also wealthy and privileged enough to be able to buy good watercolors, decent brushes, good paper.
I’m talking about maybe 30 dollars worth of materials, so I want you to understand that I am not rich.
I was painting with Ellie today. We were mixing colors and chatting and using our special water color paper. Her baby brother was asleep, so this was one hour where the two of us were able to focus on each other.
“I love this special Nonni time,” said my sweet girl. “I love painting with you!”
And I loved it too.
But I was thinking about this fact.
If I was a less lucky grandmother, I might not be able to provide this moment to my girl. If I hadn’t retired from teaching in a good school district, I might not be able to stay at home and watch these two kids.
If my daughter was a single Mom, she wouldn’t be able to provide me with the financial support to watch these kids. If she hadn’t been born white, middle class and ‘neurotypical’, she might not be able to work while her kids are here with me.
I am not special.
I am not particularly talented.
But I am able to buy a lot of good art materials that I can use with my grandchildren. I am able to buy them interesting books. I am able to spend my time at home with them, taking them outside to play in the melting snow. I have enough money to buy seeds and soil so that we can plant flowers together.
What does this all mean?
It means that just by the luck of birth, just by the luck of the draw, my grandchildren will have a bit of a hand up on their peers. They will have been exposed to art and science and books by a grandmother who was a teacher. They will have had access to materials for building, for creating, for art, for reading and writing, that many kids will not have seen.
It means that they already have a bit of step up.
Not because they are smarter, or more artistic, or better or more deserving.
But because we live in a country where we have decided that it is acceptable to allow our richest, most privileged children to walk a special, guarded, golden path. It is because we have come to believe that if one is born into poverty, one deserves to stay there. And that if one is born into wealth, one is entitled to all of the best that life has to offer.
It was a wonderful day for me. It was a lovely chance to connect with my most beloved girl.
But it sure made me think.