Why do I want to report about education this semester? I’m now two full days into my tenure as an education beat writer at the Columbia Missourian, and this question keeps popping to the forefront of my thoughts. Why is this a subject I should give my undivided attention to this semester? Even more so, why is this a subject I want to give my undivided attention to? Is it because I spent about three semesters covering higher education at The Maneater, MU’s student newspaper? Maybe. Is it because I know how important education is in major university towns, growing up in the backyard of the University of Arkansas? Maybe. Yet, I think my passion for education reporting started long before my Fayetteville days or my first Maneater article. I think it started in Memphis, of all places.
The summer after my freshman year of high school, I traveled to the Tennessee city for the first time. In addition to BBQ and Rock ‘n’ Roll, Memphis is also known for its extreme inner city poverty. In several neighborhoods, the infant mortality rate and overall quality of life is lower than in many developing world countries. The neighborhood I spent most of my time in was Binghampton, a focus of the Memphis ministry, Service Over Self. The people I met in this tight knit, struggling community were nothing short of inspiring, and overflowed with advice I still hold close. I helped repair the roofs for several homeowners, including a wonderfully southern, elderly lady. When she asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up (though I think I’ll never truly do that), I told her I wanted to be a journalist. She asked me what kind of stories I wanted to write. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but hopefully they would be powerful ones. She told me she thought a journalist’s biggest responsibility is to write stories that carve pathways to better futures. “What is the most important pathway to a better future?” she asked me. Without pausing for a response or a sip of her sweet tea, she answered her own question. “Education.”
Be it the K-12 school systems or colleges and universities, I firmly believe holding these institutions accountable provide the generations younger than us with the best chance at a better future. That’s why I’m excited to report about education this semester.