by Dana Yow
Wesley Wilson is a busy young man. As a veteran now studying full-time at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University, Wesley is highly involved with the veteran community. Wesley was the President of the Fordham Veterans Association, before he graduated from Fordham University with a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership. He is also an advocacy fellow with High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a non-profit that advocates for veteran issues on Capitol Hill. Despite his busy schedule, Wesley is anxious to return to SC to help bring attention to the truths of the SC education system, a system that he spent all of his schooling years in. He thought about not coming back, but he thinks he owes it to the state he grew up in. He is ready to be in his words, “invasive.” I had never heard that word associated with a person before but given his passion for his beliefs, it sure seemed to fit.
Wesley grew up in Lexington County. He admits he was not a stellar student. He found little motivation from his classmates who often picked on him for doing his homework or caring about classwork. He was “never pushed to excel” in school, although his mother encouraged him to be the first in his family to graduate from college. By the time he was in high school, his GPA was a 1.6. High school was a place where looking back, “emphasis wasn’t placed on stuff that was important,” said Wesley. Sports teams and athletic victories were celebrated but academics took a backseat.
“I wasn’t pushed; I was passed along,” stated Wesley. “The grading scale was set so that the minimum you could score was a 55, even if you did no work. Kids knew if you did well the first quarter and nothing the second quarter, you would still get passed on. That is how it worked.”
Things changed drastically for Wesley in 2010. His mom died in a car accident, and he became a ward of the state. Still grieving for his mother, Wesley decided to make her dream of college for him come true. He made straight As his senior year. His final GPA was a 2.1, not good enough for college given his previous academic record, but Wesley admits his dreams for success at that point had become “obsessive.” Wesley, out of resources and options, looked to the United States Army and the G.I. Bill. He joined the Army in 2012 and spent time overseas during his five years of active duty. After the military, Wesley moved to New York City and started work on his degree at Fordham University.
While at Fordham, Wesley became interested in education policy and began to become more informed about the realities of the schooling of today’s youth. Drawing from his past experiences, he wants to understand the root causes of what is happening in South Carolina education — why we are not acknowledging the truth of our status among states (cue the outrage), and what he can do to change things. Ultimately, why in SC do we make it routine to accept substandard?
“I think we South Carolinians have our priorities entirely backwards. We are so quick to march down to the state house and protest against abortion or the removal of the Confederate Flag—meanwhile, our children have the lowest reading, writing, and arithmetic scores in the country. Our state ranks as one of the worst in the nation for teachers, and our graduating high school students are unprepared for college. Why are we not holding our policymakers at the state and local levels accountable?”
He knows the answers are not easy, but they can’t be answered until we first acknowledge there are problems. SC students are not improving; at best, progress is stagnant. Wesley points to the current public relations campaign about SC public education, believing it to be disingenuous to cite the statistics they use under the guise of teacher recruitment and retention.
“I understand you can’t attract top tier talent when we are ranked low, but it is disingenuous to not tell people the facts about how we are doing as a state,” stated Wesley.
Wesley acknowledges teachers are not paid enough or respected enough. As a society, we undervalue education and academic achievement, and the cycle is often perpetuated. Acknowledging there are problems allows us to search for answers. He doesn’t expect much will change in a year’s time, so he is ready to come back to the state he loves once he earns the degree his late mother wished him to achieve.
He will need to a new obsession, and I for one look forward to the invasion.