When Someone Doesn’t Benefit from the Social Cooperation of Education

By: Ellen Albritton

In class on Thursday we discussed the social cooperation of public education, as well as the rights and responsibilities, the advantages and disadvantages, and some of the resulting inequalities surrounding it. This is an interesting story about what some parents feel they must do in order to help their children escape the trap of underfunded, underperforming schools that do not offer anywhere near the amount of opportunities that schools in a wealthier area can provide to their students. The mother in this story has been charged with the felony of tampering with official records because she allegedly falsified her address so that her children could attend a school that was much better than the one near the housing project in which she lived.

This woman now has a criminal record because she broke a law in pursuit of an education for her children that would provide them with better college and job prospects, in a safe environment that would expose them to a wider variety of educational tools that would enrich their lives. In short, she did this so her children could enjoy many of the benefits of the social cooperation of education we listed in class. She felt she had to do this because the duties and responsibilities that are a part of public education—teachers, funding, facilities, etc,–were not of sufficient quality. For me it is easy to both sympathize and empathize with this mother, and I am sure that many parents would do the same if they found themselves in this same desperate situation.

Some people who have commented and written about this case have also raised questions about the role race may have played in this situation. Their argument is that during the same period in question, dozens of others families have had similar residency discrepancies, yet this is the first one to result in any criminal charges. Does the fact that this mother in question is black, while the school district is mostly white, have anything to do with that? Did the parents of students that reside in the wealthier area put any pressure on school officials to investigate certain residency issues because they felt their community was being compromised by “outsiders” to their community? While the answer to these particular questions may never be known, we do know that racial, ethnic, and language minorities make up a disproportionate number of the children currently attending under-funded and under-performing schools, and that as a result, these children’s opportunities are often constrained for the remainder of their lives.

We also know that one’s level of education is a major factor in determining one’s health and that the educational attainment of a mother has a dramatic influence on the overall level of well-being for her children. So how do we as public health practitioners address the issue of educational injustice? Is it enough to implement mentoring and tutoring programs to help kids “catch-up?” Or should we take it even further “upstream” and reform the tax system and the way our schools are funded?

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One response to “When Someone Doesn’t Benefit from the Social Cooperation of Education

  1. Ellen, this is an absolutely fascinating article not only because of its race implications and the ludicrous notion of jailing a mother for seeking a better education for her children, but because this exact same practice is almost expected in my hometown – Hong Kong. Like any large metropolitan area, there are clear differences in the quality of education offered at various public schools. Placement into these schools is, like the United States, based on residence as well as a lottery system. Because the top elementary boys’ school was located within a certain distance of my grandfather’s residence and the top elementary girls’ school was located within a certain distance of my aunt’s residence, my mother took their addresses as our own when she registered my two younger siblings for school. In fact, I do not know of any family that did not use this method to ensure the best education for their children (unless they were wealthy enough to actually live in these areas or to send the children to private international schools). It is appalling that two parents using the same approach to pursue a better education for their children in two different countries can encounter such drastically different consequences. As discussed in class, a child’s poor socioeconomic status should not bar him or her from starting his or her education off at an equal playing field as a child of a wealthy family. In this sense, Williams-Bolar should not be penalized at all. In fact, it is an injustice that due to these charges, Williams-Bolar lost her position as a substitute-teacher, leaving her without a steady income. However, perhaps a new question we can ask is whether it is fair that while Williams-Bolar has her father’s address to use, other families who live in the Akron neighborhood with her do not have the same connections and would be unable to do the same thing she did even if they wanted to? Would this be a violation of Rawls’ principle of equal opportunity?

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