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Dad never thought he'd go to college either

By Chris Cobler
March 10, 2012 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated March 11, 2012 at 10:12 p.m.


TWO QUESTIONS

Victoria school district officials asked two questions of the group assembled at last week's meeting on community involvement in education:

What are your ideas on how we can work together to create a strong education community? What are your ideas for improving student attendance?The second question focuses on the problem that the attendance rate at Victoria's two high schools is lower than at comparable districts, suggesting our community somehow values education less.

Please send your answers to Chris Cobler at ccobler@vicad.com or by mail to Victoria Advocate, 311 E. Constitution St., Victoria 77901.

As we broke into small groups to discuss the future of education in Victoria, the eyes on the table turned toward me.

After all, I had just written a column about the newspaper considering a project to bring together the community to focus on education. The speakers at last week's event had honored us by reprinting my column and distributing copies to everyone in attendance. The Victoria school district meeting already was in the works before we published the column, but organizers thought it fit perfectly with their plans. They even pulled out a quote from it for their PowerPoint presentation:

"Our project would be wildly successful if everyone in the community felt a sense of obligation to help just one student."

Sounds good, right? But how exactly are we going to do that?

Before breaking to discuss this question, we heard sobering statistics showing we were headed in the opposite direction in Victoria, our state and the country:

•  By 2040, Victoria will be 20 percent Anglo and 71 percent Hispanic. Texas and the rest of the nation will see a similar demographic shift.

•  In Texas, 42.5 percent of Hispanics have less than a high school education.

•  The single-best predictor of income levels is education.

These and many other statistics led to this conclusion by Steve Murdock, the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau and state demographer for Texas: "As population changes, if we do not change the socioeconomics that go with them, primarily through education, we will change the very economy of Texas and the United States as a whole."

Murdock was quick to point out that the country's aging Anglo population and younger, growing minority population need each other. Those of us 50 and older need the infusion of younger workers to support our retirement and our country's economic future. Likewise, the younger people of color need the majority community's support - primarily in the form of educational opportunities.

When an issue is presented in such big terms, the easiest thing to do is to throw up your arms in surrender. As a community, we have to be better than that.

I certainly didn't have any better answers than all of the education experts gathered in the room. As I wrote in my column, the newspaper's plan is to form partnerships and use the power of the press to galvanize the community. We know we can't dictate any solutions. Rather, we hope to help people find what works and to spotlight and celebrate those accomplishments.

As our small group talked about this big question, I thought about my dad. Born dirt-poor in the teeth of the Great Depression, he was one of 11 children who never dreamed of going to college. His father worked a variety of manual jobs to make ends meet and died young; his mother took in laundry to help support the family and worked from sunup to sundown.

Dad never considered college until he was drafted into the Marines during the Korean War. Only then during some testing by the military did he discover he was considered bright. Before that, he figured he was just another kid born on the wrong side of the tracks.

After his service, Dad enrolled in college while working three jobs to support a wife and baby. He was the first in his family to graduate and went on to start his own successful certified public accounting firm.

Yes, Dad is quite a man.

While not everyone is going to be as amazing as my father, his story came to my mind because of how his realization changed expectations within my family. By the time his four children were old enough to know any differently, we all were expected to go to college. We didn't have any doubt about it.

What will it take to trigger this realization within every student in Victoria?

The answer surely won't be the same for everyone, but expectations are powerful. What would happen if our community expected our students to be successful? What if we demanded it?

Of course, great expectations carry great responsibilities. We can't just look to someone else to do the work. We can't blame society or the government or our schools for the problem. Instead, we have to look for the solutions within each of us.

As I was leaving last week's meeting, I bumped into a friend representing the Junior League at the meeting. She said the service organization was considering a new project for the year.

That conversation got me to thinking: What if all of the service organizations and churches in Victoria put education at the top of their list? Each group could approach the challenge in its own way, but the newspaper would be there with the school district to document the efforts and results.

That's just one idea. We need a lot more. What about you? How will you answer the bell?

Chris Cobler is the editor of the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached at 361-574-1271 or from 9-10 a.m. weekdays in the Advocate Internet Cafe, 311 E. Constitution St.

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