The Value of Education

By Evelyn Smith. Evelyn, 46, is a mother of six from Thomasville, Alabama, USA. Please read her entry and leave your thoughts and comments below. (*Shortlisted for the 2018 prize!)

Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door closes a prison.”  This simple statement resonates with depth and complexity.  Was the author simply alluding to the obvious fact that a good education opens the prison door of poverty leading to prosperity?  Did he mean that education is a gateway that offers freedom from the prison of ignorance?  Was he suggesting that education can lower the rate of crime and physical imprisonment?  Did he feel that education brings freedom from dependency on others?  Let us suppose that all these possibilities are interwoven.  All of these ideas together make up the bricks and mortar of the prison that Victor Hugo describes in his quote.

Growing up in a poor area of the world means to be born into a prison of poverty.  No matter whether it is in a remote area of a third world country or a metropolitan area in the United States, poverty never has a pretty face.  The opportunity to acquire an education is the one thing that can eradicate the curse of poverty and lead to prosperity for oneself and for future generations.  Education opens the door to worlds that were previously unimaginable, a world filled with opportunities.  When a child breaks free from the curse of poverty, they gain a future.  What if the most brilliant mind in the world is imprisoned in a life of poverty?  What if the cure for cancer is locked inside this mind?  What if all it needs to be revealed is the spark of education?  All that is needed is one bright spark amidst the darkness of an impoverished life to ignite a fire that illuminates the shadowy corners and dispels the generational curse.  For them, opening a school door closes the prison of poverty.

Growth mindset is a concept proposed by Carol Dweck, psychologist at Stanford University.  The idea of growth mindset is that intelligence, character, and creative ability of individuals is not a set quotient.  People who have a growth mindset believe that they can develop and improve through hard work, motivation, and determination.  Fixed mindset, in comparison, is the idea that each individual is born with a fixed amount of intelligence, character, and creative ability.  The people in this group believe that once they reach their full potential, there is nothing they can do to improve themselves.

In exploring these two mindsets, here is a perfect illustration of Victor Hugo’s quote.  The growth mindset group continues on a path of perpetual learning with exciting new discoveries around each new bend in the road.  Meanwhile, the fixed mindset group, once they feel they have fulfilled their given potential cease seeking knowledge and improvement.  In essence, the fixed mindset group is enclosed in a prison of their own creation, because they refuse to believe that they can achieve more.  Growth mindset is the key to open the door to the prison of ignorance.  “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”—Henry Ford.

A 2016 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Bureau of Investigation found that there is a direct correlation in the level of education and the crime rate in an area.  The study found that education reduces violent crimes by 40.1% per 100,000 populace.  The theory behind their hypothesis is that people who have an education are more likely to be gainfully employed and therefore less likely to resort to a life of crime to provide for themselves and their family.  This leads to the logic that education is the antidote to the poison of delinquency.

There is a vicious cycle that plays out over and over again.  Lack of education leads to inability to find gainful employment.  Unemployment leads to criminal activity.  Criminal activity leads to incarceration.  Incarceration leads to unemployment.  Most businesses do not wish to hire convicted criminals.  This cycle can then lead to higher dependency on the state for both funding for overcrowded penal systems and for welfare to support the families left without breadwinners.  This suggests that in a very literal sense, opening a school door closes a prison.

As an adult, most of us would like to have the freedom to live in our own home free of the rule of our parents.  The United States government offers assistance for individuals whose expenses outweigh their income.  There are programs available on the state and national level to offer assistance with unemployment, housing, education, food and other necessities. The United States is a proud nation of people.  We are proud of our reputation as a nation of self-sufficient hard workers.  We want to have employment options that make it viable to support ourselves free from the support of governmental programs.  In short, adults dislike being dependent on others or the government.  However, education is the great equalizer.  A good education is the foundation upon which all other elements of a good life are anchored to allow us to sail free.  Education is the key that opens the door of dependency.

Having examined possibilities for the author’s meaning of this quote, there were suggestions that the quote has dual meanings.  Ponder the possibility that the quote could be open to multiple interpretations.  Was Victor Hugo intending that his words be taken literally or figuratively?  Was his intention merely to provoke a deeper contemplation of the impact of education on the situation of our society as a whole?  Certainly, there are numerous possible meanings.  This quote in itself is meant to be provocative, to open the mind to a deeper exploration of the value of a good education.

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