Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Education and Equity

I sometimes find it very interesting to think about education and equity. As a graduate student, I have had the privileges and opportunities to get where I am today and recognize that privilege. Yet, it seems that in graduate school in education we often think about privilege, equity, and making the world a better place, but never think about how those issues play out on a daily basis. How can we create/transform education to be more "fair" when many educational practices rely on/rest of privilege, namely economic privilege but we fail at questioning them?

For instance, every semester students have to buy hundreds of dollars in books - a political act in and of itself. Many times professors state that they are sorry that they have to assign so many books because they recognize the cost, but c'est la vie we need to read something. Can we really talk about wanting educational equity when one of the most basic needs of education (i.e. textbooks) are so expensive or bought from profit-seeking corporations. Personally, I can afford the textbooks and I enjoy being surrounded by books (good ones only though) but what about those students who cannot or better yet take out loans to pay for these books (I used to do that so I do have experience with being in debt because of undergraduate education). How can we argue for educational equity when the very practice of higher education demands an access to in some people's opinions large sums of cash? How has "intellectual property" become so important but policed, so "in-group" but necessary? If we seek educational equity and access to knowledge, why does knowledge cost so much and why is it (in terms of textbooks especially) such a political and expensive enterprise?

So, can we actually say we are for educational equity when we cannot even find a way to make the acquisition of knowledge via books accessible and affordable to all students? How does this relate to knowledge itself? Are books necessary because of the instrumental view of knowledge that our education system often upholds as the way of viewing knowledge? We need to read these books because they will allow us to get somewhere someday in the idealized future that will never reach our doorstep?

Finally, if buying books is a political act, which I believe it is, does it matter where the book is bought? Does purchasing the texts from an independent local bookstore do more than purchasing them from a corporate bookstore? Or is it a privileged notion to spend more to support a local bookstore and if so how does one choose when to do so AND does such a pressure create an issue of division where those who can support local feel "superior" to those who buy "corporate" because of financial need?