The Importance of Education

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This is Success Academy Williamsburg Charter School, a charter school that educates pre-k through fourth graders within the fourth floor of John D. Wells Junior High School in Los Sures.[6] The school opened in 2012.[7] Edna notes that charter schools are one of the improvements to education that have entered the neighborhood.[8]

While the actual value of attending higher education institutions is increasingly debated within the United States with articles titled “Is College Worth It?” becoming common place, there is a simultaneous stress on higher education’s necessity. Part of this emphasis connects directly to economic changes that have occurred. For example, when looking at Williamsburg, the area is grounded historically in a blue collar past. Williamsburg was an industrial powerhouse, “the birthplace of Standard Oil, Domino Sugar, Schaefer Beer and other industry giants.”[9] These industries provided a job market boom that offered employment without the prerequisite of a degree. Starting in the 1960s, this economic landscape was drastically altered. Big blue collar employers shut their doors including the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1966 and Schaefer Brewery in 1976. Overall, “from 1961 to 1988, more than 200,000 local jobs disappeared.”[10] Seventeen years later, “in 2005, the City approved an official plan to rezone much of the industrial waterfront to residential use,” a visible manifestation of the disappearing space for blue collar workers.[11] These closures and erasures led the way to today’s largely white collar economy.

With the transition to a white collar economy, the jobs available increasingly require high school diplomas and often degrees from higher education institutions. Jobs that do not call for such educational requirements are often viewed as temporary jobs as the pay they offer is often not enough to maintain oneself on, let alone a family. On a local level, Edna faces this struggle when attempting to help others in her community secure employment. She brings job postings to those in the community when applicable, saying, “they’re going to have jobs here, you can go. [But] some jobs they need high school. They don’t have high school, how are they going to work?”[12]

When it comes to neighborhoods like Los Sures, whose population is over 50 percent Hispanic/Latino with many of its residents or their families moving to the area from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, the stakes are even higher.[13] In Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez, a child of parents who migrated to New York City from Puerto Rico, Gonzalez explains the reliance his parents had on education giving their children—Juan and his sister Elena—better opportunities. “After the terrible poverty they’d faced in Puerto Rico, they believed that an education—any education—was their children’s only hope for progress,” which sometimes translated to extreme pushing of academics, such as beating if low marks were brought home on report cards.[14] When school systems are not up to par to prepare youth for the workforce or higher education, those in non-privileged communities are hit the hardest. When new, young professionals—often white, often degree-wielding, often higher middle-class—move into neighborhoods that are not being equitably served, as is happening today with Los Sures, the disparity between what educational opportunities the youth are accessing and what they could have feels even greater.

The Importance of Education