Myths: Education and Family

Interpreting and understanding myths depend on an individual’s personal views, beliefs, and ideas. With that in mind, the myth regarding the nuclear family and the myth of education and empowerment are all interpreted differently and argued, for and against, in many ways. Both have been perceived negatively by society, yet they have not always been a harmful folktale. Rather, the myth that education can improve someone’s life has been used, year after year, to motivate the youth in order to improve their own personal lifestyle.
The myth of the nuclear family has also been used over and over again by the media as a prospective goal for everyone who wants to start a family. Although the passing of time has changed the perception of both myths throughout our society, to many, including myself, these myths continue to provide hope for a better life and a traditional family. Imposing the myth of the ideal family, which the media depicts as white, semi-rich and happy with “…no rifts…” (Soto 29) is what negatively impacts society because no one should set a standard on what a family should be like.
As a result of this misconception, the ideal family has become the ultimate goal for couples who want the best for their children. Take Gary Soto’s “Looking for Work,” and picture an eight year old Mexican-American boy, who felt the need to change his family because he wanted them to act like the white families portrayed in television shows, like Leave it to Beaver. Why do these individuals have the need to create “the perfect family” portrayed by the media?

According to Soto, as a child, he “…tried to convince [his family] that if [they] improved the way [they] looked [they] might get along better in life… White people would like [them] more… [White people] might not hate [them] so much” (30). Although the myth of the family has been attributed negative qualities because it creates a false sense of reality, it has, for many years, been the underlying reason why couples start a family of their own.
For instance, if a couple could not decide on the number of children, they could turn to the myth and consider starting with two because the myth implies that an ideal family consists of “…Dad, Mom, a couple of kids, maybe a dog, [living in] a spacious suburban home…” (Colombo et al. 18). Even though society has accepted the meaning of family to be between a man and a woman, moreover, it is evident that in the America of today there are families composed of same-sex couples. The myth however, was not created to incorporate same-sex couples as part of the efinition, as it is explicitly described in page 18 of “Harmony at Home:” …the traditional vision of the ideal nuclear family-Dad, Mom…remains surprisingly strong. ”This myth has become so ingrained in society that even after the idea of the nuclear family still receives extensive support. Even the famous archaeologist, Margaret Mead, commented on the belief of the ideal nuclear family “As far back as our knowledge takes us, human beings have lived in families. We know of no period where this was not so.
We know of no people who have succeeded for long in dissolving the family or displacing it…” (New World Encyclopedia). Similar to the myth of the nuclear family, the myth of education and empowerment introduces two different sides of the spectrum- the idea that education is not for everyone, as seen by John Taylor Gatto in “Against School,” and the idea that education does improve someone’s life, as seen by Malcolm X in “Learning to Read. ” The literal interpretation of the myth shows education as a symbol of success and as the gateway to fulfill the American dream (Colombo et al. 11). Education, moreover, has not always been perceived negatively by society because to many people education represents social mobility and a shot for a better life. While there may be some frustration with the educational system, education, according to the myth, will always serve those who seek to better their lives and who want to be someone in life, as long they are not limited to the quality of education offered. However, the reality is that minorities have continuously faced obstacles that impeded them from receiving a high-quality education.
For instance, if an individual comes from an affluent household, then as students they are more likely to receive a better educational foundation than an individual who goes to a lower or middle class school (Anyon 173). As a result of Jean Anyon’s findings, it is evident that social class plays a prominent role to the type of education that a student receives especially if “knowledge of skills leading to social power and regard (medical, legal, managerial) are made available to the advantaged social groups but are withheld from working classes, to whom a more practical curriculum is offered (manual skills, clerical knowledge)” (170).
But what if we, as a society, had followed what President John F. Kennedy mentioned in his 1960 senatorial speech that “… we [need] to rededicate ourselves to the principle of equal educational opportunity for all regardless of race, place of birth, or wealth. ” Our society would be improved greatly, and the educational knowledge would be dispersed equally amongst all of the citizens; no one would be given a better education because everyone would receive the same quality.
The significance that the education and empowerment myth has in society is that one: people who believe in education are more likely to finish their schooling because it symbolizes an achievement and because it emphasizes the credibility of what the United States represents-freedom, happiness, and success. Secondly, if an individual like Gatto believes that education is a waste of time (148), then people will become discouraged and therefore there is a higher probability that these individuals will “fail” to fulfill the American Dream.
The reason I am generalizing this concept and associating failure with not finishing high school or college, is because of the way that I grew up and the sacrifices that my parents had to endure in order for all their children to have the best education possible; to my parents, not finishing school is like giving up in life, and throwing all their sacrifices down the trash chute.
Lastly, the belief that education brings you power and offers you an open door for a better life, has impacted society, because as the country progressed into the new era way before the revolutions that this country had to endure, such as the Civil Rights Movement and women’s suffrage, education was not opened to everyone. As time went by and people fought for their liberties, education became a universal liberty, rather than a right given to selected individuals. All in all, the myth of the nuclear family and the myth of education and empowerment have not always been interpreted as negative ideas by society.
They may have been by a few people, but the feeling was not mutually shared by everyone. Both myths served as motivational ideas that influenced people like Gary Soto and Malcolm X, to have the desire to try new things, even if what Soto wanted to try could have change his family completely; and the things Malcolm X wanted to experience, improved his capacity to learn and educate himself. Although, the myth of the nuclear family has not changed because it has not accepted same-sex couples, the myth of education and empowerment has changed with respect to who it is being applied to.
In other words, the interpretation of the myth will vary with people from different backgrounds. For instance, to a Mexican like me, education is a gateway to a better life. To a Chinese person, education represents honor and recognition from his or her family. Lastly, the myths of education and the nuclear family gives us, the citizens of the United States, hope for a better life or a perfect family, depending on one’s respective point of view. Works Cited Anyon, Jean. “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work. 1980. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. By Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Vol. 162. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. 169-85. Print. First appeared in the Journal of Education. Colombo, Gary, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. “Harmony at Home: The Myth of the Model Family. ” Introduction. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. 17-21. Print. Colombo, Gary, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Learning Power: The Myth of Education and Empowerment. ” Introduction. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. 109-15. Print. Colombo, Gary, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. Print. Gatto, John Taylor. Against School. 2003. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. By Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle.
Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. 148-55. Print. This selection originally appeared in Harper’s magazine. John F. Kennedy: “Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Beverly Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles, CA – (Advance Release Text),” November 2, 1960. Web. 22 Oct 2012. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www. presidency. ucsb. edu/ws/? pid=25930. Marriage Equality USA. Prop 8 Hurt My Family – Ask Me How. 2009. Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing.
By Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. 84-88. Print. New World Encyclopedia. “Margaret Mead. ” New World Encyclopedia. New World Encyclopedia, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. ;http://www. newworldencyclopedia. org/entry/Margaret_Mead;. Soto, Gary. “Looking for Work. ” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. By Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2010. 26-31. Print.

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