It’s that time of year, when many high school seniors are making a choice that will significantly shape their futures: Where to attend college? Increasingly, another decision is having even more of an impact on future hopes and dreams: How to pay for it?
Debt from higher learning has been steadily rising over the past two decades. According to Money magazine, about half of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with an average of $10,000 in debt 20 years ago. In 2016, more than two-thirds of graduates left school in debt, averaging a whopping $35,000.
That’s why some free-tuition advocates hailed the agreement announced recently between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders. In the plan, the state would cover tuition costs at the City University of New York and State University of New York systems for families earning up to $125,000. The plan will be phased in over three years beginning this fall, and Cuomo estimates 940,000 families will benefit once fully established.
There are provisions: Graduates must live and work in New York for as long as they receive free tuition. Students must also be enrolled full time and maintain minimum grade point averages. Additionally, the plan establishes a grant program for students who attend private colleges in New York, as long as the college matches it.
Some proponents of tuition-free college say that New York’s plan doesn’t go far enough: It doesn’t cover non-tuition costs such as living expenses or allow for part-time or interrupted studies, contexts that many low-income students find themselves in.
At the federal level, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal recently introduced legislation called the College for All Act. The bill proposes making all public colleges and universities free to families with incomes up to $125,000, making tuition free for all in-state students at community colleges and cutting student loan interest rates in half.
According to The Washington Post, there are also at least 85 initiatives at municipal and state levels to provide tuition-free education at community colleges; Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota already offer it.
Proponents argue that a tuition-free college education, particularly given modern workforce expectations, should be a right similar to secondary education. Free-tuition plans such as New York’s would increase access to higher learning for low-income students and students of color. Without the crushing burden of debt, more students would have the economic freedom to pursue further education, make employment choices based on passion rather than solely on income, and build their financial stability.
There are many reasons why tuition has risen so dramatically, including the increase in the number of people attending college and the amount of money states spend per pupil. But it is clear that these tuition-free proposals are shifting people’s attitudes about college degrees and the right for all people to have the opportunity to earn one, as well as the potential for community colleges in particular to play an important role.
If there was any question about how deeply college debt is affecting graduates, it was answered recently by lawsuits filed in Illinois and Washington. These states contend that one of the nation’s largest student loan companies engaged in predatory lending. Using practices similar to those which led to the mortgage crisis, Navient (a spinoff of lending giant Sallie Mae) allegedly used subprime loans knowing that many of its customers would be unable to repay those loans. Navient is also being charged with sloppy accounting and misleading tactics that have left thousands of people even further in debt.
Perhaps a generation from now, high school students will be able to focus solely on their futures, not their future debt.
This blog was produced in partnership with the anti-hate news project 500 Pens.
Applegate is a journalist, editor and storyteller who focuses on youth, family and social justice issues.
The two sides of the climate-change debate—supporters of the scientific consensus on the role of human activity and those who deny this consensus—are ramping up their messages these days. That leaves science teachers with a major dilemma when it comes to how to address the topic in the classroom. But the science is clear, and this issue is too urgent to be mishandled with students.
Scientists are in near-unanimous agreement about the scale of climate change and the impact human activity has on rising global temperatures. In its 2014 assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported, “Multiple lines of evidence indicate a strong, consistent, almost linear relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions and projected global temperature change to the year 2100.” An analysis published in January 2017 by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that 2016 was “the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.”
Many of the phenomena linked to climate change (e.g., extreme weather patterns, melting polar ice caps) could potentially displace whole communities, lower agricultural yields and increase the spread of mosquito-borne diseases (though climate change is one of many factors linked to such increases).
On Saturday, April 29, people from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., to promote the necessity of doing something about these dire environmental realities. The Peoples Climate March is organized by the Peoples Climate Movement, an advocacy group dedicated to mobilizing communities around climate justice. Along with more than 200 sister marches across the country, this demonstration will bring together tens of thousands of people, including educators, to amplify a shared message: Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity today.
At the same time, forces in opposition to the scientific consensus on these matters are launching major assaults on efforts to turn things around, including actual policy decisions—like the planned budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the approval of a vocal climate-change denier as its head. And, despite the scientific consensus, Americans’ beliefs about the impact of human activity on climate change and what should be done to address it do vary widely, often along partisan lines.
Another such force driving the opposition to climate science is the Heartland Institute, an Illinois-based libertarian think tank. In mid-March, the organization sent nearly 25,000 K–12 science teachers copies of the book Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and plans to ensure that every K–12 science teacher in the country receives one. The book came with a letter from Lennie Jarratt, project manager of Heartland’s Center for Transforming Education, that included this passage: “A recent survey found that most K–12 science teachers who address climate change in their classrooms treat the science as ‘settled.’ ... I am writing to ask you to consider the possibility that the science in fact is not ‘settled.’”
“The educators who’ve contacted us are well aware that this is not science and not appropriate for the classroom,” says Ann Reid, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based nonprofit dedicated to defending science education against ideological influence. “Often, the first inclination is to produce a point-by-point rebuttal. We think that is arguably counterproductive, as it suggests there is actually something to debate and all of their points have already been thoroughly debunked elsewhere.”
While it would be easy to classify the activism and ongoing policy debates around climate change as another example of the “red versus blue” quagmire, the key task that lies ahead—for marchers and for all concerned parties—is to find more effective ways to create sustainable, engaging and welcoming spaces for people across the political spectrum to engage with science. That’s where educators can play a key role.
The fact that tens of thousands of people are preparing to march on Washington this weekend offers a gateway to teach about the science of climate change and about the social justice and activism questions that surround it. Consider grounding a discussion of climate change within the four domains of Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards:
- Identity: “How does my identity influence my carbon footprint?”
- Diversity: “Who is most vulnerable to climate change?”
- Justice: “How do power and privilege influence our ability to influence climate change?”
- Action: “What can I do to help mitigate climate change?”
The most important thing, says Reid, is that “the message needs to be relentlessly positive and inclusive. Science serves everyone.” She hopes this message can extend the current discussion beyond party affiliations to focus on a shared human commitment and using science as a tool to create a better world.
“We really don’t want science to become any more partisan than it already is,” Reid explains. “I hope a main message of the climate marches will be that everyone wants to leave a better world to their children and we all need to work together to make that happen.”
This blog was produced in partnership with the anti-hate news project 500 Pens.
Guidry is a novelist, essayist, poet, science writer and librettist from Boston. Her work focuses on medicine, climate science, socioeconomics, healthcare policy, medical anthropology, political philosophy and bioethics.
The Atlantic: “Education is not simply another commodity to buy and sell on a market. It is a shared good.”
Education Week: “In a rapidly changing political and environmental landscape, focusing on the development of global competency seems urgent.”
The Greater Good Science Center: “While stories about the impact of [social and emotional learning] may feel hopeful and uplifting to educators, parents, and others, they can also convey subtle messages that harm students inside and outside of the classroom.”
The Huffington Post: “Reading LGBTQ inclusive stories is a way to validate what [students] may be already be thinking around gender and gender roles. We are planting the seed at young ages for people to think about gender.”
The Huffington Post: “Compared to their male counterparts, high-functioning girls on the spectrum are often misdiagnosed with social ‘difficulties’ instead of ‘disabilities.’”
KQED: “The type of chest pain [this student] felt, along with shortness of breath and other physical symptoms of anxiety, are complaints some Bay Area pediatricians said they’re seeing more of in immigrant and Muslim populations.”
National Public Radio: “With Islam estimated to be the fastest growing religion in the country, private Islamic institutions are gaining the same acceptance in American education that other religious schools have long enjoyed.”
National Women’s Law Center: “Every year, thousands of girls are pushed out of school as a result of a variety of often overlapping educational barriers, including homelessness, family instability, discriminatory discipline practices, society’s collective failure to prevent or adequately address harassment and sexual violence, and the failure of schools to recognize and properly respond to trauma.”
The New York Times: “The fact that my skin color matches that of my students doesn’t give me any superpowers as an educator. But it does give me the ability to see them in a way that’s untarnished by the stereotypes, biases and cultural disconnects that fuel inequality and injustice.”
Southern California Public Radio: “[U.C. Santa Barbara education researcher Michael Gottfried] found that 12 percent of the children who took the school bus were chronically absent, two percent lower than kindergarteners who didn’t take the bus.”
The Washington Post: “The number of minority teachers more than doubled in the United States over a 25-year period but still represent less than 20 percent of the country’s elementary and secondary school teaching force.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
Toward the end of the year, my students do lots of self-reflection: Which books had the biggest impact? How did they choose writing topics that mattered to them? When did they struggle, and what did they learn from those struggles? Which strategies were most helpful? What new genres, concepts or techniques did they explore? What will they work on next year?
Questions like these help my students notice what they’ve tried and how it worked out. It helps them build behavior patterns that lead to academic success and a sense of vitality. But as meaningful as that self-reflection is, I wasn’t offering my students an opportunity to examine another crucial part of their experiences: each other.
So I came up with three additional questions:
- Who in our class supported you in an important way?
- Who in our class pushed you to think differently or more deeply?
- Who in our class inspired you by setting an example?
I knew my students might feel awkward acknowledging each other in these ways. There’s vulnerability in saying, “This person had an impact on a part of my life that’s important to me,” especially if it’s a person you don’t know well or who didn’t realize their actions were so meaningful. So before my students wrote their responses, I described how some of my colleagues have supported, pushed and inspired me. I wanted to show that I was willing to do the same, potentially difficult thing I was asking of them.
Most students had no trouble with identifying classmates, but a few called me over to ask for more help. If they had a rigid view of what “support” looks like, I asked, “Is there anyone who suggested a great book for you to read? Or gave thoughtful feedback on your writing? Or encouraged you during a tough assignment?”
If they didn’t get the idea of a classmate pushing them, I asked, “Is there someone who introduced a perspective you hadn’t thought of? Or who debated your ideas? Or who gave you critical feedback that ended up helping you revise?” I explained that getting pushed might not feel good in the moment but often leads to growth; I wanted my students to notice the value in that kind of discomfort.
I also wanted students to expand their thinking about who could be a source of inspiration: “Maybe it’s someone who’s willing to put a different opinion out there or who works really hard to improve their writing or who reads a ton.” It was hard to keep my own values from influencing what the students might say, but I tried by adding, “These are some of the qualities I find inspiring, but what inspires you is going to be based on what you find important.”
In that context, here’s what some of my sixth-graders wrote. Names have been changed, but otherwise these are their words:
- “Vincent has always been a support because we correct each other’s writing a lot.”
- “Tonya always was willing to help. Unlike others, she took time to help me instead of rushing through it.”
- “Karyn helped me by being a good partner … and always doing her share of the work.”
- “Ella always pushes me to think differently or more deeply. Whenever we peer review, she always leaves helpful and insightful questions to help me add imagery that I had never thought of before.”
- “Martin has … helped me think about our mystery book in a way in which I could set up all the clues in my head and estimate what would happen next.”
- “Hugo really digs deep and finds lots of things I can change or I can think about.”
- “Mariah really inspires me in this class. She always adds a great perspective to class discussions.”
- “Sometimes writing gets stressful, and when that happens I sometimes get tense, but Anna always stays calm, and I admire her for that.”
- “I have read Ned’s work, and it has inspired me to write more and check over my work more carefully.”
Most students named three specific classmates in their responses, and everyone named at least two. A few students were unable or unwilling to recognize classmates who pushed or inspired them: “I really don’t think any of my classmates have pushed me, but Ms. Porosoff does and my family does.” And a few said everyone had helped: “I don't think one person inspired me, but I think everyone I worked with inspired me in a way.”
What was particularly exciting was that students didn’t acknowledge only their friends or only kids who get the best grades or who are the most vocal during discussions. Also, they didn’t name only students who share their social affinities or belong to traditionally privileged groups. The students were able—at least in the moment—to see each other, appreciate each other’s contributions and build a sense of solidarity.
Porosoff teaches English at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and is the author of Curriculum at Your Core and the upcoming EMPOWER Your Students: Tools to Inspire a Meaningful School Experience.
When I was a kid in the secondary grades, one of my greatest fears was tests. Despite the fact I was an “A” student, I hated them. Being tested scared me: I would get stomach aches, cry and claim I did poorly on them, even though I always did well. My parents even offered to pay me to get a “C” so I wouldn’t worry so much. (I never got paid.) I have no idea why I was so afraid. I liked learning, I liked school, and the pressure to do well was almost nonexistent then.
Today testing stress begins at an early age. Years ago, I was in an East Oakland elementary school and the halls were covered with posters, made by kindergarteners, to cheer on the older kids during testing. Frankly, getting 6-year-olds to partake in the culture of testing made my heart hurt.
The focus on testing has become so intense that teachers feel enormous pressure. And students share that pressure to perform. I’ll never forget a second-grade teacher telling me that one of her students was throwing up because of how nervous she was about tests.
Although I believe in assessing student performance as one way to determine if good teaching and good learning is happening, I think tests often miss the mark. Plus, important achievement often goes unrecognized because it’s not “tested.” Many teachers share this perspective. And with each testing season, teachers are looking for strategies to lessen the pressure on their students.
The good news is that mindfulness helps calm everyone down about the process of testing. Instead of worrying about tests, being present for them enhances students’ chances for success. (A recent study suggests that the daily program of Inner Explorer, an online mindfulness platform, increases students’ performance in reading and science and reduces discipline-related events.) Asking students to take three deep breaths before a spelling quiz every week prepares them to do the same before taking tests for which the stakes are higher.
Even small, mindful actions will help students. Students can put their hands on their bellies and observe their bellies getting bigger when breathing in and getting smaller when breathing out. Or they might notice the shoulders rising with each in breath and falling with each out breath. Tying the movement of the breath to the body can help students anchor their minds when they feel anxious. Paying attention to the breath stimulates the parasympathetic “rest and digest,” calming part of the autonomic nervous system and bringing the body into a state of equilibrium. Because the exhalation is actually what stimulates the relaxation response, children—and adults!—benefit by breathing in for four counts and then breathing out for eight.
Testing is a difficult time for students, families and teachers. If you have a student who struggles with testing anxiety, try using the following role-play, centered on breathing, to help relieve their stress. Really, practicing this type of visualization with all students can help them be in the present moment while taking the test instead of worrying about the test. Once they’ve done it a few times, they’ll be prepared to use this strategy during actual testing.
Today we are going to bring mindfulness to test taking.
Schools use tests to see how much you are learning.
Tests can have interesting effects on students.
What are some of your feelings about studying for tests?
What are some of your feelings about taking tests?
Today we are going to bring our mindfulness to taking tests.
Imagine you are in class and I am about to pass out the test.
As I do so, close your eyes and begin to practice your breathing by paying close attention to each time you breathe in and each time you breathe out.
Take five mindful breaths, breathing in calm and relaxation and breathing out any nervousness or fear you have about the test.
Breathing in…and breathing out. Now take four
slow breaths on your own. (Give students 40 seconds to take those breaths).
Now imagine yourself picking up your pencil and holding it gently between your fingers. Take three more slow, deep breaths here. (Allow 30 seconds of silence.)
Imagine yourself answering the first two questions. They are easy and you feel good.
Now imagine that the third question is a little confusing. Instead of getting nervous, you put down your pencil and take three more breaths, each time breathing in calm and breathing out the confusion. (Allow 30 seconds of silence).
You look at the question again, and you decide to answer it or return to it later. No biggie! The next questions are not hard for you and you feel good.
At the end of the test, if you had skipped any questions, you return to them, taking a few breaths before working on each one. You do the best you can and finish the test.
You put down your pencil, feeling good about sharing what you have learned with your teacher.
Grossman, the director of program development and outreach for Inner Explorer, is the co-author of Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress and the co-founder of Mindful Schools.