The Work-School Connection

June 18, 2007

Bob Herbert’s latest describes how fewer and fewer teens have jobs. The teen employment rate is at its lowest point in 60 years, and it is especially bleak for black teens.

There is a temptation in the education community to see this issue as separate from school reform. But that is a mistake.

For teens from the most depressed communities, like those I worked with as a public defender in DC and now at Maya Angelou, one of the real challenges with convincing them to take advantage of school is getting them to see the relevance of all of this to their future. It is hard to communicate what it is like to grow up in a community where so many people are unemployed–and where even the employed people have jobs that are so uninteresting and poorly paid that it is hard to convince anyone to aspire to them. Moreover, kids who have no money really want a chance to earn a little, legally, during the evenings and the weekends. When that isn’t possible it pushes them further to the margins and drains them of hope. Kids are not dumb, and all the “you can make it” chanting in the world, while important, runs against the hard reality of what they see in front of them. Bottom line: Until school reformers start to see some of the connections between our efforts in the classroom and the challenges faced by the communities surrounding our schools, we will never realize our full potential.

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