By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The novel tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French Revolution. When I went to Paris by myself for Thanksgiving last year, I thought about everything I pictured going on in this book I read as a child. Two Cities was one of many on the shelves at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, a family shelter on 15th and Yakima where I used to live with my mom and sisters. The book didn’t have any obvious connections to my life like my favorite book of all time, Life Without Principle by Henry Thoreau. I was ten years old when I picked up out that piece of literature from the shelves.
A little bit about myself: I am a Tacoma native, senior at the University of Washington studying journalism, and I want to be a great author, writer and reporter someday. I love writing. In fact, if you were to ask me what gets me out of bed every morning, I could tell you that writing nearly makes it impossible for me to even get to bed. I could stay up all night writing.
I’ve probably read Life Without Principle a dozen times. Henry Thoreau gave me something to think about and challenge. His thoughts and perspectives intrigued me. I wanted to know what he was talking about and if there was any truth behind his wisdom. Naturally, I started questioning and challenging everything. On the subject of poverty, I wondered what makes a person poor. With education, who was really in control of what I was able to learn if we allowed individuals like Henry Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Aristotle on the shelves at public libraries and in peculiar places like shelters?
As long as I had access to education and sources of knowledge, no one person, institution or experience would ever make me feel poor. In fact, I considered myself very wealthy because of all the knowledge that was made available to me.
Throughout Life Without Principle, Thoreau emphasized the importance of separating ourselves from society as a whole and living life according to our own works and decisions. Ultimately, after reading this book several times as a kid, I began to understand that just because I was poor and didn’t have everything that students whose parents could afford to send them to expensive private schools, with a wealth of resources that most public school students couldn’t access, it didn’t mean that I would never amount to anything or be able to go to college and excel.
I separated myself from the expectations of poverty, believed in myself, and viewed myself and my life situation as two separate entities. Growing up poor with a series of adversities, you have to find something or someone to believe in. Kids in poverty face a different experience than kids who grow up with the necessary means and resources. I continued to read and immersed myself into writing, mainly reflecting on the thoughts of many of my favorite authors, humanitarians and philosophers that I began to discover.
When I got my first public library card, I knew I could do anything. If I knew what the kids in the private schools knew and more, and still had access to public education, I was going to be fine. I was never working to prove anything; I was working to become all that I could be, because I remember how I felt growing up having to move homes so often because we didn’t have very much money, living in the shelters, watching my mom struggle, and a wide range of other hardships that I had to face. I wanted better for myself, and it wasn’t fair to my heart if I didn’t do something with this life that I was given. I felt it was a part of my greater birthright to be all that I could be and more.
The McCleary education funding debate is one that intrigues me. It makes me wonder how the opportunities it presents could change everything for kids adversely affected by the current system. I remember my experience going through the K-12 system, how hard it was, and how tenaciously I had to work outside of school hours to get to where I am today.
Over the next few months, I’ll be following the McCleary case and sharing the perspectives of educators, students, community leaders, and a little about my experiences in college.