When Traditional Education Fails, Self-Learning Saves

I take partial responsibility for the mess I made out of my education. High school was a matter of survival, with little cognitive or emotional reserve left for learning. Afterwards, I managed to hop around to five different universities; most of which turned into a triumph of skipping classes and margin doodling. While fumbling my way towards an English degree, I even once managed to set my alarm clock incorrectly and slept through an invitation for breakfast with Gloria Steinem. I still wear that blunder like a hair shirt.

By grad school I’d pulled it together and earned my degree. I ended up studying social work and did not pursue the snooze fest that was my English/writing track beyond undergrad. But I’d loved writing. I’ve been good at it from an early age. Teachers encouraged me to run with it. And here I am, nearly two decades since steering away

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The wealth gap: How education fails to measure economic disadvantage

When Ajuah Helton was a college student, her financial aid package came up a few thousand dollars short. What happened next threw her off course.

Her mom took out a high-interest federal loan that she ultimately couldn’t repay. The next year, her mom wanted to avoid more loans, but didn’t have other funds to tap into. Helton, out of options, left school for a semester to work to make up the difference.

“That’s with a mom who was fully employed, college-educated, but did not come from anything that allowed her to say, ‘Oh $5,000? Let me just go to my bank account or my stock market and pull out a little bit of cash,’” Helton says.

Helton, who is Black, did graduate. She is now the national director of KIPP Through College, a program designed to help students like herself earn college diplomas. But every day, she sees her own

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