I know what it’s like to have to trade / The ones that you love for the ones you hate / Don’t think I’ve ever used a day of my education
“The Good, The Bad and The Dirty” by Panic! at the Disco
For the last month, I’ve heard the word “education” used in every possible context: experiential, public, private, charter, secondary…the list goes on. So when I heard it yet again at the Panic! at the Disco concert on Tuesday, I was surprised not by the word, but by the thoughts it triggered. “Don’t think I’ve ever used a day of my education”—as a Duke student and DukeEngage participant, I would hate to agree. When I was accepted to the Durham program, I thought my education would simply expand to accommodate definitions for economic development, most likely through research and observation. Instead, the focus of my six weeks in NC shifted to the public education system in Durham and its significant influence on the city’s long-term economy.
Twenty-five years ago, Durham’s public education was divided between city schools and county schools. They were racially divided—the former, predominantly black, and the latter, predominantly white—and as such, offered vastly different resources, opportunities, and futures for their students. This changed in 1992, when the two school systems were combined to create Durham Public Schools. This merger both amended past inequality and created new differences, once again generating disparity in Durham’s educational offerings. Though the old system was concerning enough to cause change, problems with citywide academic engagement are still seen today.
It’s difficult to see these problems in Durham and accept that they don’t have easy fixes—that, as we were warned during DukeEngage Academy, the issues we work with can’t be alleviated in one summer. I understood that in May, but it’s much harder to keep in mind when the results of these issues manifest themselves in our daily work. Sure, we can’t fix everything—but, from what I’ve seen in the last month, there’s no harm in trying. Optimism is what’s creating change and furthering progress, even if that progress takes time. Programs like DYIP and other city initiatives provide a kind of education that moves towards greater workforce participation throughout the city’s different populations, which in turn fuels and sustains economic development.
All of this is to say that my own education is improving this summer, from understanding how economic development manifests in communities to recognizing the importance of perseverance in creating long-term solutions. Even though no major change can come in six weeks, I’m glad to know that I’m becoming more educated about the people that make up Durham’s community, and that at least a day of my education is committed to theirs.