This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Universities should lead the way to economic opportunity,” written for a high-level university executive at Teachers College/Columbia University. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a published non-fiction writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
ONE OF THE MOST tragic moments in literature comes when Jude Fawley, an English stonemason, perches on the highest rung of a ladder to get a glimpse of Christminster. Despite his reverence for learning, the university may as well be on the moon. A poor man like him, born to poor parents, can never hope to study Greek and Latin with real scholars.
Thomas Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895, yet the diminished hopes of his eponymous character call to mind the would-be college students in our own country whose aspiration for higher education is thwarted for lack of money — and, increasingly, lack of academic preparation. To our national chagrin, the United States now finds itself in a late-nineteenth-century British predicament wherein children live out lives based on their parents’ station in life.
We know from the recent work of Markus Jantti, a Finnish economist, that the fictional world of Jude Fawley is becoming an American reality: According to Jantti’s research, children in the United States have less “intergenerational earnings mobility” than children in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and, amazingly, the United Kingdom. This means that if you live in the U.S. and your parents are poor, you will probably grow up to be poor too. And so will your children.
Many economic and technological factors have combined to create a perfect storm for undermining the educational opportunities once more widely available to poor and middle class children. The upshot, according to MIT economists Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McAfee, is a social hierarchy of “high-skilled winners” and “low-skilled losers.” Indeed, as Brynjolffson and McAfee observe in Race Against the Machine, “Over the past 40 years, weekly wages for those with a high school degree have fallen and wages for those with a high school degree and some college have stagnated. On the other hand, college-educated workers have seen significant gains, with the biggest gains going to those who have completed graduate training.”
In the U.S., we have a tradition, reaching back to Horace Mann and John Dewey, of addressing socioeconomic problems by educating our people. To a large degree, we are still doing that. Our children attend some 98,000 public schools, funded every year to the tune of five hundred billion dollars. Yet we are not turning out students with the skills needed for a twenty-first-century economy. Only 40 percent of our fourth graders are proficient in math and 34 percent in reading. By eighth grade, math proficiency drops to thirty-five percent. What is going wrong with our educational system and what can we do to fix it?
A good part of the answer lies in the very thing Jude Fawley desired: A university education.
Until our schools can produce results comparable to those in Finland — the global leader in students who excel in standardized reading, math and science exams — American universities must make their educational resources available to primary and secondary schools across the country. It may take governmental and private funding to underwrite such a venture, but an even greater prerequisite is the belief that universities can play a leading role in the education of our children and the reinvigoration of our economy.
Various demonstration projects around the U.S. are already showing dramatic gains from university-school partnerships.
Teachers College in New York is among a handful of American colleges that shares faculty, curricula, cognitive research and wellness programs with neighborhood public schools. One such collaboration involves the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (Columbia University), Teachers College and the Harlem Schools Partnership to teach children the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. A comparable program called the Harlem Ivy 21st Century Community Learning Center combines STEM education with lessons in nutrition and physical activity — two educational areas that seek to combat the alarming rise of obesity and diabetes in poor communities. One of the best known of these partnerships is the Harlem Children’s Zone at PS 154, a network of in-school, after-school, social service, health and community programs.
TC’s most recent project is the Community School, temporarily located at PS 133 in East Harlem. It opened in September with two kindergarten classes and plans for phasing in additional grades over the next eight years. TC faculty are working with PS 133 educators to build a national model of the community urban school — a place that combines academic rigor with so-called “wraparound” services from the medical, dental, public health and social work schools at Columbia University.
But what is truly “twenty-first century” about these partnerships is the research that cognitive psychologists will share with teachers about how children learn: How they benefit from learning subjects in a specific order; how they develop language; how they become creative, and how they learn to understand each other.
Universities have taken a lot of heat for not knowing how the real world works. If our colleges and universities want to matter to America again, they have to bring the best educators and academic resources to bear on a problem so grand that it encompasses our stalled economy, an educational achievement gap between rich and poor, and a skills gap between the schooled and the unschooled. And if America wants to matter in the global workplace, it must recognize the willingness of universities to help solve real-world problems stemming from the inadequate education of our children.
The only ladder that an American Jude Fawley will need is the ladder to educational and vocational opportunity.