(riiight…well that’s working well)
A while ago ( January 3, 2013) in a post titled “On Education” I stated these words: “A degree from Harvard won’t help you to accomplish your dreams (any faster/better than one from your local public university) if in order to pay it off you have to go work at some iBanking firm when all you really wanted to do was write.”
While I still believe these words to be true, a lecture I went to by the wonderful Professor Carla Shalaby (who quite unfortunately is leaving Wellesley before I have been able to take a class by her) has altered my opinion on them.
In her talk titled “Charity to Solidarity: (Re)Framing Community Service”, Professor Shalaby gave the lecture I’ve been waiting to hear on education for years.
In her talk she started by saying something most people hate to admit, that just by being at Wellesley College,we the students, have privilege. No matter our background beforehand by the very fact that we are students of such a prestigious college…We. Have. Privilege.
The second amazing thing about her talk was that she deconstructed terms we so often causally use to talk about the people we’re “serving” (serving was one of the words she doesn’t use). The first of which was underprivileged. She stated “I don’t use that word, I believe that some people are over-privileged. And when someone asked her what does she use to describe “those people” she stated, “people, I call them (for example) people from Mission Hill”.
Shalaby was all about the humanizing of education that she believes, as do I, our capitalistic society has dehumanized. As she stated, (paraphrasing) by having a society in which people “make it” or do well and are at the top you have to have a system that puts people at the bottom. Another wonderful thing she stated was that we (as volunteers in these communities) need to realize that our definitions of success as framed by the capitalistic society we believe in (whether we are “playing the game” or truly believing) are different from other cultures. And to continue, “other cultures such as African or Middle eastern are community based. They don’t believe in uplifting the individual, they believe in uplifting the community”.
All of this brings me back to my first point, the revisiting of my “old quote”. While I might not want to think that a degree from Harvard might not help you accomplish your dreams any “faster/better than one from your local public university” that, unfortunately is not true. As she said, she doesn’t like her Harvard classes and learns more in the communities and such she works in however she’s about to have a Harvard degree and that mean something. As she said “now people will listen to me”, and she’s right.
And so now, after many years of stubbornness I understand why my parents sent me to the private school they did and why I’m going to Wellesley, because at the end of these four+ years, I will have a prestigious educational background, one that is recognized and respected in our American society. I might not love Wellesley all of the time and I might learn more most times from outside the classroom than inside it, but in the end I’ll have that Wellesley degree.
Her talk reminded me of another thing, that after these four years up here, I need to go back home. I wasn’t raised to be apart from my community, from my home, Texas with all of its problems is where my heart and therefore my home is.
So while we might be all apart of this system is it important to realize that as Professor Shalaby said, “of course you’re doing the work you’re doing, you’re doing it to pay back what you owe. You have benefited from this system, maybe not as much as others, but by attending Wellesley College you do and will benefit from this education. Yet it is important that we work with others (in communities we “serve” to “teach” (she doesn’t like that word either, we’re all teachers/learners & I agree) them “not to play the game but to end it.”
To read more by Shalaby check out “Humanizing Education: Critical Alternatives to Reform” published by the Harvard Educational Review.