Struggles in the Pursuit of Higher Education

Struggles in the Pursuit of Higher Education


My whole life I have heard it said that in order to get anywhere in life, one needs an education.  Indeed, Stephanie Owen and Isabelle Sawhill claim that “additional education improves overall wellbeing by affecting things like job satisfaction, health, marriage, parenting, trust, and social interaction.” (210)  Basically, Owen and Sawhill is saying that the outcome of obtaining an education will have a great impact on your overall self and future.  It might have taken me a long time to get to where I am today but I’m finally here.  When I was fifteen, I dropped out of high school and started working various minimum wage paying jobs to try and make ends meet.  I continued to struggle and was growing tired of my “low” streak until I hit my twentieth birthday.  That’s when I decided that I would go back and get my GED in hopes of being able to obtain a higher paying job.  After obtaining my GED, getting a job was no longer a problem, but I still wasn’t satisfied with just having a job because I wanted more.  I wanted what all my friends had: financial stability and happiness.  From my own experience and research, there are many clear reasons students could struggle in their pursuit of higher education, some of which could include society, family and school.

One reason that could cause a student to struggle is society, and in my case the social experience of immigration to the United States.  My parents immigrated to America in the late 1970’s to escape from being hunted by communists as a result of our people siding with the American’s during the Vietnam War.  As first generation in America to go to school, I have a personal history with parents who wanted all of their children to get a good education and become doctors, lawyers and engineers.  My parents had very little to no education, so in order to reach these goals and the help of their sponsors, my parents moved us to a small town in the suburbs, predominately white until my early teen years.  I remember growing up and being the only Asian kid in class and being picked on because my eyes were different, I couldn’t speak English, I didn’t have nice clothes like the rest of the students, and I was also very shy.  I used to wish I looked like all the other kids, white.  I thought that maybe if I had been born white, my life would have been different.  All of these negative thoughts were a result of my alienation from everyone who came into my life, suggesting that negative self-talk can impact a student’s performance academically.

Similarly, a case study in Robert Putnam’s book, Our Kids: expresses “It was hard! My sister was in fifth grade…I didn’t have a choice…I wasn’t really allowed to do stuff, ‘cause I had to take care of her, because my grandpa worked. I had to grow up really fast” (Putnam 151-2). Basically, this case study by the name of Lola is saying that her sister became her responsibility at a very young age.  She had to sacrifice a lot of her needs and goals in order to make sure Sophia had everything she needed to succeed.  With the constant negative self-talk of putting off her needs and goals as she had to play mom to Sophia, it eventually led to her dropping out of high school. In many minority cultures, it is often expected of the eldest child to take care of the all the younger siblings when the parents are not around which can place a lot pressure on a student when they’re young.

Another influence that could cause a student to struggle in school is family.  The way a child is raised can have a positive or negative impact on how they will turn out as an adult.  According to research, “parenting style typical of affluent and educated parents, characterized by nurturance, affection, warmth, active involvement, and reasoned discipline…leads to greater socioemotional competence among children” (Putnam 122).  In other words, a child’s experience growing up and their environment can have a huge impact on their brain development and effect how they turn out when they’re older. From my own experience, I went through a lot of dark times.  I felt like I was the black sheep because my sisters didn’t want to be around me because I was a baby to them and a girl to my brothers. I wasn’t allowed to play outside or go anywhere with the family.  To them, I was an embarrassment because I was different.  As a child I was very sheltered and shy.  I can remember when I turned three years old, my father decided he was going to prepare me for head start by teaching me my numbers, alphabet, and how to read and write.  At the time, I didn’t speak or understand any English because none of my older siblings were allowed to speak it while at home.  My father would have me practice every day after dinner for a couple hours.  The lessons were all so foreign to me and I didn’t understand why he was making me learn them.  As days went by and I still couldn’t grasp anything, my father grew impatient with me.  He would get angry every time I got something wrong and tell me how dumb of a child I was and that I probably wasn’t his seed.  So instead, before my lessons would start, he would have me copy a page out of the dictionary in hopes of me learning my alphabet and practicing on my penmanship.  After a couple weeks of practicing and I still couldn’t remember my numbers, the alphabet or how to read and write; my father changed his teaching methods so that every time I got something wrong, I would get a whack in the head with a hanger.  If I cried, I’d get another whack in the head, and if I didn’t stop crying, I would get a full whooping.  I remember I hated learning. I hated that I couldn’t remember anything. I hated that I was different and not normal and smart like my siblings.  As I got older, my lessons continued and I continued to struggle in school.  As a result, a child that is consistently being reminded that they are worthless and secluded from the world will eventually start to believe it and be demoralized.  Similarly, Stephanie expresses “No, we don’t do all that kissing and hugging…that’s other races’ stuff…In real life, that doesn’t happen. You can’t be soft” (Putnam 96).  Stephanie believes that by disciplining her children with whooping’s and showing them tough love, it will help them become strong individuals and prepare them for the realities of the world.

Lastly, comes high standards held at schools.  In Putnam’s book, he states, “Isabella emphasizes that Troy is a pressure cooker…” (144).  Troy’s a very competitive school that holds high standards for all their students which can cause a lot stress and lead a student to become discouraged.  For example, growing up I had five older siblings and every year the teacher who had the first sibling would have the next siblings, which meant they would eventually have me as their student as well.  I always struggled with learning and was always passed on to the next grade, no matter how badly I did.  Finally, I decided to ask my teachers for help because I couldn’t comprehend or remember any of the material and I was tired of my learning sessions.  I can remember being scolded by my teacher saying, “I had all your siblings and they were all straight “A” students, but what happened with you? You need to start studying better and paying attention! I know you’re smart. You’re just being lazy.”  With the constant comparison to my older siblings that I should be doing well in school and having no one to turn to for help; I became very discouraged and lost all hope in people.  As a result, I eventually stopped caring about everything and later dropped out of school and left home.

When it comes to pursuing a higher education, a lot of students will reach out to their family members, mentors at school or even in their society, but when a student doesn’t have the right kind of support, it can change their view on life for the good or bad.  Despite of all the struggles that I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.  It caused me to become a strong independent individual who is determined to better my life.  Through my experiences of living on the street, to being shot at, seeing old friends dying or going to jail, to working dead end jobs, to making new friends and seeing their success and happiness; it encouraged me to want more and turn my life around.  In order for me to get there, I needed to pursue a higher education and get away from temptation.

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