For students, September is a month dedicated to progress. The school year begins with a self-congratulatory monologue when watching new students file into the seats you sat in three months ago. When we progress from grade to grade, we feel we have finally reached the future. The 180 days of toil I had last school year have paid off in the privilege to spend another 180 days in another classroom.
In this progression, though, it feels as if I remain still. From grade to grade, it seems like school is just more of the same: the same students, same heavy textbooks, same eight hour days of sitting and staring. The rhetoric of progress, of “senior privilege,” is ensconced in pride. I’m now a sophomore, I’m now starting college, I’m now a doctor, a lawyer, a PhD. candidate. In America, education is progress.
Education has been the great equalizer in America, for as long as public education has existed. My parents both had impoverished childhoods as the son and daughter of immigrants. Yet, by studying through school and receiving Pell Grants from the United States government, they both graduated with honors from Columbia University. It is the quintessential American Dream, achieved by a combination of hard work on a personal level and effective educational policy by the American government.
In the past, the American Dream had not been accessible to many on account of race and gender biases; nor is America a universal meritocracy today. However, it is the American promise of merit-based progress that creates the country of today.