Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#1 Path out of Poverty: Education

As I continue to recover from a flu that mowed me down, I hope you'll agree this old blog post bears repeating.

Having learned at an early age that I was good at school, I absorbed the message like good body lotion soaks in that education was my ticket out of poverty. School, with few exceptions, became a refuge---a glorious island of organization and positive experiences in a sea of chaos. I never went through a stage in which I resisted going. I grieve and feel burdened by the fact that all children of poverty do not get this message as strongly as I did or are unable to receive the message. Decades ago I heard commentator Paul Harvey say the "highest place in heaven will be reserved for the person who clears the snow from the church steps on Sunday mornings." I disagree. The highest place in heaven goes to teachers who communicate to students that education is still the first and best ticket out of poverty. I cried when I heard President Barack Obama point out to African-American children the realistic stats on how many poor, black boys will make it out of poverty on basketball scholarships! Education unlocks far more doors than basketball.   

With these feelings about school---in spite of fourteen different elementary schools---it's not surprising I blossomed in high school. I was still shy but functioned well in class, in several extra-curricular organizations and with a small group of friends. And I carried the mantle of designated achiever in my family. One of my boyfriends later told me they called me the "shy Univac." For younger readers, the Univac was the first significant iteration of a computer. Those years constituted the beginning of my desire to find myself and it wasn't easy. Although I was shy, I was a performer. Although I was good at school, I didn't have a self definition of being smart. In many respects, I didn't know who I was or who I wanted to be. 

The religious piece of my identity rested firmly in place but when nominated to be in a beauty pageant, I was thrilled. One of the judges when he read I was going to be a Southern Baptist missionary asked, "Then why are you in a beauty pageant?" I didn't understand why the two needed to be mutually exclusive.

At that point I fully expected to be a missionary. I applied only to three Baptist colleges, was admitted to all three and chose Georgetown because it was close to our original hometown, Evansville, IN and it was where Aunt BJ had gone to undergraduate school. Marriage, birth of my son, Husband Number One's illness moved me away from missionary plans but the Georgetown College environment and culture during the Sixties proved to be a safe environment for a young woman trying to find herself. In 1965, Georgetown had never had a dance on campus. Those wild fraternity boys had off campus dances and then my sorority staged the first off-campus dance sponsored by women. Sin and degradation! Finally, my senior year, the first on-campus dance was sanctioned. I never had a curfew until I arrived at Georgetown! 

God bless the role of education on my path.

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