'Our Single Greatest National Challenge'

Oranges within Apples by Osman Azami

On Tuesday, we’ll head to the polls and vote on issues most important to us. Unless there’s a serious upset, Republicans will regain control of at least one chamber of Congress. Expectedly, many voters will cite the economy as the chief reason for the anti-incumbent rage—and maybe rightly so. People are still suffering and feel this Congress and this administration haven’t acted sufficiently to alleviate the economic woes.

Economic philosophies aside, there’s still a larger issue that plagues our great nation. It’s an issue that most affects virtually every aspect of life, yet it gets very little political attention. It’s education, more specifically at schools in highly disadvantaged areas. In a country as great as ours, it’s inexcusable that only five out of 30 kids will show up for their English class on a Friday afternoon at West Philadelphia High School.

A well-intentioned and able teacher can’t teach much as he’s consistently stopped by distractions. The tools and reform that really can only come from the top are not present. He tries though. On a Friday night, he’ll call families at home and talk to them about attendance. These people are the true heroes of America. They keep trying. They know our future depends on it.

Every Friday afternoon, along with a group of students from Penn who are part of the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project organization, I volunteer in Mr. S’s English class, but most of the time, there are simply not enough students present for us to be useful.

I have been very fortunate as I have attended very good public and private schools, and I now attend a great university. I have a lot of doors open to me, but that’s certainly not the case for everyone. Without a doubt, education is the most powerful tool available to break the cycle of poverty. A poor family will typically send their children to schools in a poor neighborhood that face less-than-favorable odds at providing the child with the necessary education to succeed.

The economic impact of a poor education is undeniable. What is the economic cost of having a generation of kids who don’t have the skills necessary to write, to read, to think, to behave?

There are many wonderful community centers out there that have done tremendous things to help families in need. Last Friday night, as part of a foundational leadership class at Wharton, a team of ten students, including myself, along with the Caring People Alliance hosted a Halloween event in an area that’s not always safe for kids to trick-or-treat. This event is one of many that prove the intention is there. The resources and direction from the top, however, are lacking.

In his NY Times column discussing the rage against President Obama, Nicholas Kristof made a brief note of hailing President Obama for working to improving America’s inner city schools—“arguably our single greatest national challenge.” Well, it is undoubtedly the greatest challenge, and the fight doesn’t need to end now. This Election Day, vote with your heart, not your pocket, and help end this cycle of despair.

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