Drafting a Narrative as Sweet as Sweet Tea: Progressive Work with Education in the South

The interweaving of education and poverty ring through in perpetuated stereotypes of the South, which I hope to tackle in future blog posts. It is important, though, to get our stories out about our educational institutions that produce great research, our minds that have breakthrough ideas, and our progressive work that is completed. I am not dismissing the stark realities of regional differences. I am not analyzing various arguments about why the South’s realities are what they are in comparison with other regions. I am simply making the case that despite these realities, we must not forget about the beautiful research, education, and progressive work being done here. We must build our progressive narrative from the grassroots, just as we have built the narratives of the glory of sweet tea or a crawfish boil or moonshine.

I noticed the visual differences this week when a group of individuals used the American Community Survey’s data to create visual maps of economic inequalities and disparities in the United States. Emily Badger of The Atlantic reflected: “These five maps, however, jumped out at us for how they each illustrate deep and lingering differences between the American North and South, as seen through several different data points.” While one of the maps indicates Median Income and overwhelmingly shows the South as the lowest median incomes, one also must question the cost of living in each state. One should always look at data with scrutiny. In the end, though, one should also look at the stark reality of the maps’ implications.

Several maps stand out in my mind as they reveal deep economic inequalities that divide the regional South from other parts of the United States: Population living below the poverty line, reliance on food stamps, and population over 25 without a high school diploma. These maps show the South as falling behind other regions. It is disheartening to see on a map and know that some of these realities ring true.

Population Over 25 without a High School Diploma


Map Courtesy of: Calvin Metcalf, Kyle Box and Laura Evans.

The reasons behind such economic and educational depravities can and have been debated. The regional South is struggling with regard to percentages of populations that did not have a high school diploma. While one should ultimately ask about high school educational experiences in general, one must remember that a crucial aspect about high school is obtaining levels of reading and writing comprehension that are needed to survive in today’s American life. When people are on the search for a job, educational degrees serve as gatekeepers for particular positions. The jobs that do not require a high school diploma are often the ones that do not offer proper benefits, working conditions, and a chance to advance a future. Education and poverty can wrap into a cyclical pattern.

I have a strong interest in how educational levels affect other aspects of regions, such as politics and state level decisions. These statistics on the South are disheartening, but they also indicate that we must push to craft our own narrative of some of our incredible research institutions, educational facilities, efforts with technologies, and overall progress. While we are crafting this narrative, though, we must not forget that we should create the narrative for ourselves as a region and for our neighbors next door. We must continue doing progressive work at the grassroots level, especially in our schools. We must continue pressing for progressive ideals, even in the midst of proposed state-level budget cuts in education. We must continue.

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