College offers route to power, future

Non-educators and educators alike have been spouting something as of late that worries me: that not everyone is meant for college.

Short-sighted beliefs that fail to take in the perspective of history and explore the possibilities of the future are depressing. They signify the loss of optimism, the acceptance of the prevailing ideology and the failure to recognize that beliefs are the primary initiator for action and change — not the other way around.

I am not claiming to make a complete and holistic argument with this, but seek to offer rebuttal to two of the most common premises for this argument and offer one simple call to moral consciousness.

The notion that college is an elitist institution that we should not force upon students who do not strive for it on their own completely misses the mark. A college education allows the access to power.

A hundred years ago, it would have been inconceivable that we would expect all children to attend school and graduate with a high school diploma. These days, it is nearly impossible to get a job at places like Dairy Queen, where I made five-plus dollars an hour as a 16-year-old, without a high-school diploma or proof of school enrollment.

Standards to access power change over the course of history. It is up to us to decide if we are going to allow people to access that power, or use increasing standards to continue a cyclical state of oppression.

The second premise goes something like this: “OK, so if everyone went to college and worked high-income jobs, then no one would be janitors, housekeepers, etc. …”

This argument makes two major assumptions. The first is that people are educated to fill the jobs that exist, rather than the converse. Actually, when people are highly educated, they create demand for more skilled work.

The second is that society must have people in labor positions in order to function. Most work is dependent upon conditions of the present, and the future will likely render it obsolete, anyway. Meter Maids, tailors, toll booth workers and farming are all examples. Farming was the primary occupation for 80 percent of the American population a mere 100 years ago. Today, only 2 percent of the American workforce farm as their primary mode of income. Perhaps a slew of self-cleaning buildings will solve the janitor conundrum.

Finally, I propose a call for shifting our beliefs, so that we are a society that drives progress rather than one that challenges it at every turn, waiting for proof. Let us consider the potential fears of stating with fervent belief that college is for everyone, based on the premise that education is the great liberator.

Are we afraid of letting kids down by creating a sense of false hope? This one is more about our egos and sense of failure than it is about raising expectations for students.

Are we fearful of a force of educated people that do not look like the people currently in power? This one might be a little worrisome for those benefiting from a system that directly works in their favor.

What would happen if the state of power were representative of all marginalized people of this nation: the brown, black, poor, gay, learning disabled and the currently powerless because of a lack of a college education?

Dhathri Chunduru is a former Fulton County special educator and lifelong advocate of educational equity. She now works for an education nonprofit in Atlanta and is an active member of the education community.