My Brother's View of Heaven

May 9, 2017

 

Nope. You are wrong. This is not a religious essay – at least not in the traditional sense of Heaven. 

 

Three decades ago, when my brother and I were civil engineering students at the University of Texas, we lived on the top floor of a two bedroom apartment on a hill. Our roommate had his own bedroom, and my brother and I shared a room – but our room had a window. The panoramic sight from the window was remarkable considering the apartment’s low monthly rent. We placed a study desk in front of the window to take advantage of the natural light and the remarkable view. 

 

At that time and unlike today, the downtown Austin skyline was comprised of only a couple noteworthy tall buildings. One of those tall structures that could be seen at a glance was the UT Tower. It was located on 40 acres of land where we would both spend an inordinate amount of time studying and learning over the next four years.

 

One night, my brother had an English composition assignment on personal reflection. His subject was the UT Tower – his personal view of Heaven. But, what the distant image represented to him is not the years of toil in mathematics and physics. It was opportunity – a future far removed from the small South Dakota town where we grew up. That small town did not offer professional opportunities, but it did provide quality public schools to the children who attended. In that small rural town, a sound, fundamental education was available. The vast majority of families were middle to lower class. Income levels were not high.

 

Upon college graduation, my starting entry level structural engineering yearly salary was higher than my father’s on the day he retired. Eight years after writing his English composition, my brother completed his engineering doctorate and is now a tenured professor working 500 meters from that same UT Tower. But, again, we attended local public schools that offered quality education that prepared its students for post high school success – the key aspect in bettering children’s lives of families like mine.

 

Educational Equity transitions to Economic Equity

 

This is not a new idea – not in the least. But, I understand it. I understand it to the fibers of my being.

 

I eventually left structural engineering and became an elementary public school teacher and an urban Title 1 principal at a school where almost all the children were classified as economically disadvantaged. Ironically, the family income levels of the children at my school in comparison to my own family was not disparate, but the cultural aspect was much different. I was raised in a rural Midwestern setting of wide open spaces and small communities as opposed to large city cluster that fosters completely different life experiences. Those differences are environmental settings – an influence of course, but many rural settings are also endemic with factors that prohibit opportunity. Hence, each physical setting is a sunk cost for all practical purposes – existing primarily due to physical space conditions.

 

What factor do both low income rural and urban settings have in common that can be changed? The easy answer:  quality public schools! A rudimentary and quality public education equalizes all experiences regardless of geography.

 

My family was far from affluent but our formal public education afforded opportunity. My brother’s view of Heaven is nothing more than an appreciation of opportunity – educational and economic opportunity. Children enrolled at Title 1 schools deserve a view of Heaven, too. Their schools must provide the same educational quality as my family received – providing those families and children the same future economic opportunities. This inequity should not continue.

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