I had the pleasure of attending my book club meeting's discussion of Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns," a fabulous read that chronicles the Great Migration -- the exodus of black folks from the South to the North and West starting from the turn of the 20th century to 1970. Our discussion veered into the differences between the black migrants from the South and their descendants, in particular, how the migrants hungered for opportunities that their children and grandchildren take for granted. Like education.
I remarked that I was the aunt in my family -- I don't have children -- who constantly pushes education, telling my nieces and nephews about the quality of the schools their kids are attending, what they need to do to get their children reading at grade level, what kinds of educational materials they should buy to supplement what their children's schools aren't providing. When it comes to education in my family, I'll admit -- I'm downright meddlesome. And I can see it in their eyes when I start, in my admittedly undiplomatic manner, to tell them what I think they need to know about educating their children, things no one told my parents and which they had to figure out by themselves. It's that "Here she goes again" look. But when it comes to the education of black children I'm related to, I can be somewhat of a honey badger -- I'm a badass who doesn't give a shit if you don't want to hear what I'm telling you about educating your children because you need to hear it for your children's sake.
What came to me in our book club discussion is that, in pushing education, I've never made clear my intention. I tend to talk about education in the context of securing one's financial future because I've seen how my nieces and nephews have struggled in the job market because many don't have more than a high school diploma, if that. But somehow, I spoke my intention during the book club meeting, which I've never clearly spoken to my nieces and nephews and which I am telling them now:
I don't want you to be educated just so you can make money; I want you to be educated so you can be free.
Because my parents, my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles were not highly educated, they had few choices about how they would support themselves and their families. When you don't have more than a high school diploma, you don't have many choices in the job market -- you take what you're given because there's not much to distinguish you in terms of skills or abilities from most adults your age. An education gives you at least some degree of choice in what you will do for a living that you would not otherwise have. And choice means freedom.
An education allows you to understand the world around you better so that you can survive in it, or at least not get run over by it. Studying subjects like economics, history, and psychology, for example, help you to recognize and understand what is happening around you, whether it's a stock market boom which will be followed by an inevitable bust, discrimination against Muslims during our War on Terror(ism) that somewhat mirrors discrimination against Japanese-Americans during World War II, or a narcissistic boss who makes your work life a living hell. You know these things when you see them because you've already been educated about them. And you can plan accordingly, speak up in an informed manner, and make meaningful change about them if you so choose.
And yes, a college education, over the course of your lifetime, will probably make you richer than if you'd never gone to college. Statistics bear this out. But my intention isn't that you get an education just so you can get rich and buy a lot of useless stuff; my intention is that your education will provide you financial security on your own terms -- earning your money in the manner in which you choose to -- so that you can have the ability to walk away from bad situations, whether they be a bad marriage, a bad job, or even a bad state, and still be able to take care of yourself and your family. I don't want you to pursue an education just to pursue money; I want you to pursue an education so you can choose how you will pursue your money and have enough money to be free and beholden to no one, financially or otherwise.
What my generation failed to impress upon the generation following us is this: Being uneducated, and being poor because you are uneducated, is a form of socio-economic and self-imposed Jim Crow -- what you can do, where you can live, and how you live are all limited because you lack the financial resources to make these choices and the education to get those financial resources on your terms. Sure, the law isn't holding you back like it held back our parents and grandparents who lived in the South during Jim Crow; but your lack of education is. Without an education, you are essentially a higher order slave because others will dictate the terms of your life and livelihood.
THAT is why I want you to be educated -- so you will be free.