On Saturday, WLH overflowed with boisterous discussions of Shakespeare’s poetry, Mandelbrot’s geometry and Africa’s dynamic economies. The students who skipped through the halls were many heads shorter than their college counterparts. But they exhibited an infectious curiosity not common to undergraduates — let alone to most of their peers in middle and high school.
The 500 students came to Yale from across the eastern seaboard for Splash, an annual program that allows undergraduates to design, build and teach their own courses to interested seventh through 12th graders. The single-day event offers children an enjoyable glimpse into a campus culture committed to the dissemination of knowledge.
It is impressive that over 100 students gathered for a seven-hour teaching program. Better yet, according to the Office of Career Strategies’ most recent data on the class of 2014, nearly one in eight Yalies enters the field of education after graduation. But, however encouraging, these figures don’t go far enough toward fulfilling Yale students’ obligation to teach.
A latent, unspoken burden we’ve taken upon ourselves in agreeing to spend our bright college years in New Haven involves extending the unique privileges of a Yale education across the world. The question of whether we should be an institution fundamentally bent on teaching — even above other more glamorous, lucrative or prestigious careers — is more than just a pressing moral query. It is also one with deep practical, social and economic consequences.
After all, this column is not the first to decry the state of American public education, a bureaucratic entanglement in dire need of reform. Aspects of the system are neither wise nor sustainable. We’re a country with a stunningly low high school graduation rate — hovering around 75 percent in 2013. And the costs mount both for diploma-less individuals, who on average will earn one million dollars less than their graduating peers over their lifetimes, and for the United States, which loses a staggering 100 billion dollars each year in social programs and tax revenue from those who skip secondary education.
The problems have extensive and pervasive socio-cultural causes that even the most sweeping policy initiatives cannot entirely curb. But individuals with the passion, skills and backing of a premier global academic institution can, in fact, impress a serious dent.
Let’s examine the issue through a geographic lens. According to OCS’ numbers, nearly three-fourths of all Yale graduates in the class of 2014 wound up in one of five locations: New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, or Washington, D.C. None of these locations, save the District, rank in the bottom 10 states in public education. Plainly stated, the University’s freshest graduates are not engaging enough with communities at the nadir of American’s public education woes. And, as these young Yalies plant roots in these affluent centers, they’re not raising their kids in the public school systems that need the most improvement.
In fact, after commencement, three in four Yale graduates reside where just over 20 percent of the United States’ youth population lives. The geographic distribution of graduates should reflect a migration out of major coastal cities toward the real front lines of the battle to reform education: Detroit, Albuquerque, Little Rock, Birmingham.
And with a more diversely spread alumni network, the University’s core values, resources and ethics will inexorably penetrate regions of the country historically untouched by the embrace of Mother Yale.
Such a diaspora will pay dividends both in the short-term and the long haul. Too many of our nation’s
best and brightest students live in communities that have little contact with or awareness of institutions such as Yale. If more Yale graduates move to these regions, it can help increase these students’ exposure to selective colleges. More exposure will translate to more applications from currently under-rep
resented regions such as the Midwest or the South. When Yale’s capacity increases with the new colleges, it would be in the University’s interest to attract bright students from such backgrounds.
But let’s not forget the moral question. In the end, teaching can be the means toward the highest stage of a university’s mission: serving as an egalitarian beacon for the interests of the entire nation and world. The act of teaching is pivotal to the progress of knowledge.
And in 2014, Yalies can be leaders of a generational movement towards teaching. Whether you are interested in fractals or cephalopods, the ivory tower or Teach for America, consider teaching the untaught, whether for an hour or for a career. There are few vocations that better represent the intersection between Yale’s intellectual spirit and dedication to service.
Graham Ambrose is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.