Horizons of Opportunity for Young People

There are many good reasons why some fortunate people elect to spend time in second homes where their lives are quite different from their full time homes and places of work: slower pace; more homespun folks; a peek at the past or maybe the future; how other folks see their lives and the world; or simply a change to enliven their appreciation of their other life. These are all good and useful reasons and they produce a reciprocal benefit to everyone involved.

One of the things that informs "summer folk" is that even though they may own property and pay real estate taxes, they cannot vote locally unless they are actually registered to vote as a domiciliary. Nevertheless, many of them inevitably get caught up and take a real interest in the community life that surrounds them in the summer months.

The result is that there are an increasing number of summer communities in America now where the "people from away" pay a significant amount of the real estate taxes--which support the local schools--but have no vote in how those taxes are spent.

And, in many of these communities there is the not unreasonable notion that more money for schools translates automatically into better schools and better education. Surely, most of the parents of school-age children and their teachers--who comprise a large part of the voting population--understandably tend to think and believe that.

But, it turns out that in some cases there is an insidious irony that distorts the equation that more money equals better education. The core of that irony is some form of complacency, or even false pride, which works in the opposite direction. Teachers and school administrators alike can fall into a trap that causes many of them to be more interested in job security and some of the superficial indicators of better education--bigger, newer surroundings and more modern equipment--than the most important measures of the best education: the accomplishments, horizons and ambitions of the children.

One of the consequences of that trap is that there are schools that have the most money available per student and at the same time have VERY discouraging performance figures for their students. Those students are being seriously short-changed in developing essential skills and ambitions to truly enlarge and enrich their horizons and lives.

Those sharply divergent factors have caused a lot of state officials and older voters to question whether the issue really is the need for more money OR is more a matter the right goals of management, type of teaching skills, and a focus on and commitment to the futures of the kids.

Also, not surprising, is that many "people from away" share the same questions, perhaps in part because their taxes have sharply risen along with the school board budgets, but also genuinely because they know a lot of local kids and are sad to see some of those local kids hobbled by an inadequate education.

Recently a visiting young family with three young kids met another local family with kids in the local school. The local Mom asked what the "away" Mom did. The answer was she is a doctor. And, her husband? He is a lawyer. The local Mom seemed startled and said, "But they both seem 'so normal.'" In this exchange, it appeared to seem to that local mom that doctors and lawyers are a rarity in her community and beyond the reach of local kids.

Another recent moment was equally startling.

At a memorial service for a man from away who had been a summer resident for about 50 years, a local young woman of about 40 who had been a baby sitter for the family years before, and had become practically a member of the family, spoke along with six extremely distinguished academics, college friends and colleagues of the deceased.

This young woman stole the show which overall was superb--she was amazingly and refreshingly articulate, poignant, poised and intelligent. It turned out she still lives where she grew up and appears to be a very happy and fulfilled mom, who also helps people who need a massage therapist. She said in response to a compliment and appreciation of what she had said, "There were very few avenues ahead that I could see, within my reach, when I was in school, and I wanted to stay in this community with my family."

While she has had a wonderfully successful life on her terms, one of the things local schools often can and should do with an outstanding individual like her is to help identify that talent, encourage it and help deal with the "within my reach" issues, but only if that person really wants it.

Together, the "they are so normal" point and the inability of the school system to recognize and help inspire this young woman combined to ring a loud bell of insight.

That brilliant young woman speaker appears to have been overlooked by her educators. Based on her short talk, it was clear beyond any doubt that she had the "horsepower" to tackle anything in her life. It appears her potential talents went both unrecognized and unsupported.

Not only do the poor numbers in educational achievements fail to explain the missing ingredients in the community's educational system, the very existence of this young woman [as well as a number of other similar young men and women] is an example of how too many people in similar communities across the country accept [as well as embrace] lives circumscribed by the limits of their education.

While there is obviously no need for everyone in America to be a doctor or lawyer, and there is a real need for many people to do different, perhaps less intellectual things, it is crucial for our schools to enable as many young people as possible to know and understand about higher horizons.

They also need to learn about the opportunities and how to grasp them to become better equipped to make their own potentially unlimited choices about their lives' pathways.