There are so many things I never asked you
There are so many things I still don’t know
There are so many things you never told me
And still so many things that I will never know
and why, cuz I went to City High (City High Anthem by City High)
After attending this weekend’s Voices in Action National Youth Summit at Howard University, I haven’t been able shake the 2001 “City High Anthem” lyrics. Repeatedly throughout the event, I heard teens from 30 states call on our country’s schools to take them seriously and give them access to a quality education.
In a private conversation with Secretary Arne Duncan the day before the summit, ten teen leaders spoke passionately about the need for their voice in the educational discourse. “I want future generations to have a better education than I do,” Stephanie told Arne. Candace, a student member of the Alliance for Educational Justice, concurred. “Education is a right,” she told the Secretary. “Right now teachers are getting bored,” another explained, “so they can’t be creative and teach to their full potential.”
The emphasis of the February 26 summit was President Obama’s goal that by 2020, the country will once again lead the world in college completion. Throughout the day this objective was emphasized, repeated, and even celebrated through speeches, discussions, and a rap video called “2020 Vision.” But I couldn’t help but be disheartened by the number of times students testified about how their schools have let them down.
The complexity of their situation became especially clear to me during a “deep dive” breakout session for rural students, where 17 of 25 students placed themselves in a group whose counselors and teachers never talk to them about college. Never. As a teacher who preaches from the college handbook on a daily basis, I was astounded. How does this happen? When I probed for answers from the students, one boy shrugged and said, “I guess they don’t think any of us are going.” Sophia explained, “People see our (Kentucky) culture and they don’t see us.”
I think she’s right. We have lowered expectation for many of our students. As teachers, we nod to the idea that everyone can go to college, but in reality we don’t walk our talk.
Omari Scott Simmons, Associate Professor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law and the Executive Director of the Simmons Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting college access for vulnerable students makes this point in his Feb. 25 Huffington Post blog. Simmons argues that low-income, minority, and first-generation students are less likely to go to college, but not for the reasons we think. Usually we blame the gaps in their learning on the cost of college tuition, but the real culprit is a system made of counselors and teachers who don’t discuss college with these students. They suffer from their school’s low expectations of them—expectations that students and this rally say they must fight against every day.
As Sophia told me, “We wanna prove them wrong.”