by Claire Miller
Doctoral student Jeremy Cole has seen firsthand how education – or the lack of a quality education – can make a difference in someone’s life.
When he moved to Atlanta, he started working with the refugee community in Clarkston, Ga., where individuals and families fleeing from social unrest and instability all over the world come to start a new life. Many were fleeing social unrest and unstable conditions in their home countries and needed to make a new life for their families.
Cole was hired to run after-school and summer programs by Refugee Family Services, a nonprofit organization that helps refugee families achieve self-sufficiency, and he quickly realized that the needs of many of these children were not being met by the public school system.
“I saw both the promise of quality education among newly arrived refugees and the clear dangers of a poor education,” he explained. “I also saw the optimism, courage and persistence of these incredible children. Despite long odds — including huge gaps in their education, lack of proper nutrition or, in some cases, access to clean water — these children were hopeful and ready for a better future. And yet, our public school system was not adapting to our rapidly globalizing world and I wanted to know why.”
Cole worked with Refugee Family Services for eight years in various capacities, from tutoring students to serving as a camp counselor in the summer to working with at-risk kids in the juvenile justice system. This experience, on top of his previous social work, prompted Cole to go back to school to study the educational system and look for ways to improve it.
As a doctoral student in the College of Education’s Social Foundations of Education Program, Cole is studying the philosophy and practice of education and how it links to broader social and educational issues such as race, gender, economics and globalization. He hopes to begin writing his doctoral dissertation in early 2012 and will likely focus on international education, which would go hand in hand with the work he’s done thus far.
“It’s a program that looks broadly at education as a social phenomenon,” he said. “It’s important to understand the context of what we learn and how we learn, and the social foundations program really provides that context. Helpful critiques of our educational system that take into account this broader context are needed to expand our current discourse in education.”
Cole can also apply what he is learning to his work with the U.S. Fund for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an organization that conducts regional, state and national policy work, as well as provides community-level services such as health care, education and emergency relief to children and families in countries throughout the world.
He works as a major gifts officer in UNICEF’s Atlanta office and sees his work as a continuation of his efforts in Clarkston. He’s had the opportunity to transition from local work with an international population to international work that focuses on helping children.
“Education that helps prepare children to understand and tackle the urgent problems of injustice and unsustainability in our global world is necessary in a geography that is increasingly without borders,” Cole said. “Justice for children – which includes a quality education for all – should be the baseline from which we proceed in all of our national and international policy-making.”
This story was originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of the College of Education's Milestones magazine.