Growing up, I never understood why some people didn`t care about school. I was constantly bombarded with the message that academics and learning were paramount, and while fun was important, my responsibility as a child was to learn. Partly intentionally, partly subconsciously, my parents clearly instilled learning and education as one of my core values through their actions and example. Looking back, I see how it goes beyond the household. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Washington DC, I was raised in an environment that nurtured curiosity and a love of learning in a way that family alone could not do, and only looking back am I able to understand how cultural and environmental factors influenced my education.
I cannot remember a moment or any particular event which sparked my love of learning. If anything, it has always seemed natural to me. Both of my parents and most of my aunts and uncles had graduate degrees, it was implicitly expected that I would go to college at the very least, if not graduate school. The subject of college admissions was occasionally broached in middle school, and the idea that I should make myself attractive to admissions committees was well established by the time I started high school. I use the passive here, for which my high school teachers would be appalled, because I genuinely do not remember where these ideas originated. My parents were certainly one source, but peers, teachers, and the media I consumed all treated education with near reverence. My high school was filled with students from similar backgrounds to me, the teachers were engaged, and coming from one of the wealthiest school districts in Maryland, the school was well funded.
I slowly began to understand the role that my culture played in shaping my education. This role, like culture itself, is amorphous, and while I would be hard pressed to prove exactly how my culture shaped my education, its effects are clear. Raised in a culture that valued education, I internalized this value. For the millions who grow up with the message that learning is secondary, futile, or simply not valuable, it is hard to actively pursue and prioritize education. When I got to college, I found that most of my classmates came from similar backgrounds as I did. Those who did come from less well-off families tended to have parents or caregivers who put education first even if their peers did not and their schools were less than adequate.
The subject of schooling in inherent in the discourse around economic inequality. Poorer students tend to perform worse on standardized tests and lag being their wealthier peers in educational achievement. The role of culture, while a sensitive topic, and nearly impossible to quantify, should not be ignored. If a child does not learn the value of education at home, and goes to underfunded schools where many teachers fail to engage them, only the most extraordinary and motivated students will be able to flourish. If a child grows up in an environment that encourages and incentivizes learning, as I was privileged to, they seem far more likely to love learning. I never understood why some people didn`t care about school. To some degree, I find it hard to understand the mindset of people who put little to no value on education, but a better understanding of how their culture shaped them allows me to better empathize. It is far from a complete solution, but cultural hints in media and schools could help more children fall in love with learning, and improve access at all levels.
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