Beginning on Wall Street, the Occupy protests are popping up all over the nation. Although many media outlets would have you believe otherwise, the protesters have a unified message: it’s time to bridge the economic gap. Most talk about socioeconomic inequalities focuses around jobs and unfair lending practices, but as one New York Times columnist points out, we might be missing the point. At the root of these issues are people and before these people are advantaged and disadvantaged adults, they’re children. More importantly, they’re students. In Nicholas D. Kristof’s Op-Ed piece, he urges us to walk away from Wall Street for a moment and consider “occupying” the classroom instead.
Kristof writes, “One common thread, whether I’m reporting on poverty in New York City or in Sierra Leone, is that a good education tends to be the most reliable escalator out of poverty. Another common thread: whether in America or Africa, disadvantaged kids often don’t get a chance to board that escalator.”
Before talk of employment, lending practices, and taxation, the issue that most determines an individual’s ability to rise from poverty is their education. Those whose wealth allows them access to high quality education have a better chance of succeeding in school and in their future. Those who don’t are often “left behind.” By investing more focus and money in education, we could level the playing field in this regard. When everyone receives and equally valuable education, children have a more equal chance at economic prosperity.
Kristof continues, “Maybe it seems absurd to propose expansion of early childhood education at a time when budgets are being slashed. Yet James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, has shown that investments in early childhood education pay for themselves. Indeed, he argues that they pay a return of 7 percent or more — better than many investments on Wall Street.”
Not only have programs aimed at improving education to disadvantaged students proven effective, but the results pay for themselves when it comes to federal spending. As Kristof puts it, “the question isn’t whether we can afford early childhood education, but whether we can afford not to provide it.”
We want to hear what you think. Do you agree that more attention should focus on education?