In light of Columbia Students for Educational Reform’s screening of “The Lottery” on Monday night, and its revelation of the persistent achievement gap in our educational system, it has become clear to me that we’re currently experiencing an education crisis. As Columbia University students, we have the chance to address this issue right here on campus. “The Lottery” is an important film that examines the implications of the lottery system in NYC’s public education, where only a lucky few of the residents of Harlem and the Bronx get the chance to enter the best schools—where only a lucky few get to succeed. The Columbia Child Rights Group makes it its mission to foster dialogue and raise awareness about the obstacles children face, both locally and internationally, in trying to access basic rights such as health, welfare, and education.
When I was six, my mom and I immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh, motivated by what everyone in this country idolizes—opportunity. America offers the unique opportunity to receive a high quality education, which is also a prerequisite for success. However, as a student in the system, I found myself frustrated and overwhelmed when I couldn’t ask my parents for help with homework or daunting science projects. They couldn’t even comprehend the directions, as the instructions were in a foreign language embedded within a foreign educational system. I remember conversations I used to have with my friends who complained about their parents constantly nagging them to study for the city-wide tests, SATs, or APs when my parents didn’t have the slightest clue what such terms even meant. My parents squirmed at the idea of coming to parent-teacher conferences where they would need me by their side to translate or fill in the awkward silences. Yet despite the apparent challenges and hurdles, I was able to succeed because of the efforts of great teachers I had in school.
The education that the majority of well-off students at Columbia received and the hurdles that they overcame were most likely different from mine. This sort of disparity is even sharper when we look at underprivileged and minority students right here in New York City. These students are more likely to receive a subpar education and attend a poorly funded school. Once students fall behind on very basic skills, it’s almost impossible to correct past habits, make up for lost time, and catch up.
Education is a fundamental right, yet it is not guaranteed or protected. Without a strong education, children grow up to be unskilled, unconfident adults who do not succeed, rarely reaching our country’s top tier. Children, because they are voiceless, can easily become victims and their difficulties can go unnoticed all too often. How can children grasp that the reason they are performing poorly is not because they are dumb, but because their surrounding system cannot support them in the way they need? Thus it’s imperative for those of us who can recognize this problem to keep the plight of children in mind as we enter the job market, and as we go on to become influential in shaping our country’s future. UNICEF defines education as one of a child’s inherent human rights and states that “all children have the same right to develop their potential—all children, in all situations, all the time, everywhere.” Indeed, all children, even in Harlem and the Bronx, have the right to a good education.
The author is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in biology and anthropology.