by Shayna Hughes
Wes Moore’s memoir, The Other Wes Moore: One Name Two Fates, tells the story of two men with the same name, growing up only blocks apart, who go on to lead very different adult lives. The author Wes Moore grows up to become a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, and business leader, while the other is serving a life sentence in prison for murder. The reason for these two growing up to be such significantly different people could stem from a poor family life, bad neighborhoods, drug influences, or a combination of these aspects. All of these factors play a role in the shaping of both Wes Moores’ futures, but the factor that ultimately determines the outcome of their lives is really their respective school environments.
The public school system fails both the author Wes Moore and the other Wes Moore from a very young age. Moore writes that the other “Wes didn’t act up in class, which kept him under the radar; his teachers spent 90 percent of their time dealing with the 5 percent of kids who did” (29-30). This is true for both Wes Moores. The other Wes was always under the radar because he was smart and did not misbehave. His teachers told his mother that Wes was not fulfilling his potential in school, but he explained it was due to his boredom. Wes believed he was better than the other kids when it came to school work, but they still received more attention from the teachers than he did. Due to the lack of attention that smart kids like him received, the other Wes was left feeling unmotivated and unchallenged, leading to his eventual dropping out of school. The issue was never addressed by his mother or the school system which is a major problem. The author Wes did all right in school, but read below his grade level from a very young age. Teachers never assisted him with this issue; they just pushed him through school without regard to his learning. The problem with this is that the children who need extra guidance but do not act up in school do not receive it. Too much time is spent on the kids that are doing the wrong things, while not enough is spent praising and encouraging the well-behaved children. This leads to children acting out to get attention, while others, like the other Wes, slip away because no one will notice. Through both of these characters that are affected by this problem, the text makes it clear that it has a negative effect on those students who are part of the public school system.
Private schools are affected by this disturbing fact as well. While they may seem prestigious and attention-giving, the troubled students really are not any better off in a private school when it comes to this. There is a point within the memoir where Moore writes of his English teacher Mrs. Downs, “she flatly told me that it didn’t matter to her if I showed up because the class ran smoother when I wasn’t there” (77). This is a problem for students everywhere, especially ones who come from less privileged areas as this is how they have been socialized to behave. The author Wes had learned behavior from his fellow classmates in the inner-city schools. When he went to a private school and was expected to act in a much different manner it was a big surprise for Wes. He did not know how to handle himself in this type of environment and all he needed was a little guidance. Wes would have benefited from a stricter teacher that had better communication with both the office and his mother about his absences and lack of dedication to school. Instead, she gave up on him, encouraging him to skip school, the one thing he really needed. An environment such as this does not benefit students; it makes it easier for them to be lazy. Teachers end up being lazy as well because they are not doing their job of keeping the school and parents informed. The other Wes did not get to have an experience such as this because of the financial burden private schools place on families. Wes’ experience really was not all that life-changing though. Private school was mainly privileged white students that soared above the rest when it came to academics and received all of the teachers’ attention. This is another fault in the school system that only certain types of children are really able to attend this type of school, and even if other students are, they receive less attention. Through the author Wes’ experience, the text demonstrates that there are also faults in the private school system. These schools should be non-discriminatory and provide attention to and encourage learning for each and every student.
Military school, the final school the author Wes would attend as a child, ultimately shaped his future. His mother made it possible for him to attend this school through the use of her money and by asking her parents. When Wes attended this academy, he was at first very defiant toward authority but came out of the academy a prestigious man. During a time when Wes was finishing school, he started to think about the man he wanted to become. Moore realized, “Aside from family and friends, the men I most trusted all had something in common: they all wore the uniform of the United States of America” (132). Military school clearly has a very positive effect on the lives of young American children like Wes. They come out of there ready for anything, respectful, and a lot better off than when the children originally came to the academy. Military school provides a much stricter environment for kids who need this, giving attention to all of the kids, making sure each and every one of them is doing what he is supposed to be doing. The schedule was rigid, curfew was very strict, and so was the time for everyone to be awake. At one point Wes decided he actually liked military school, saying, “They made it clear that they cared if I succeeded, and eventually so did I” (115). This is very important for many children as they do not receive this type of guidance and support from the schools or anyone at home.
A problem with this type of school is that it is limited to a very small number of children. Many kids would benefit greatly from being in this type of an environment, but the ones who need it often will never get to experience it. Military school is very expensive and the single-parent households both Wes Moores and many of their friends come from make it very difficult, if not impossible to pay for this. Luckily, the author’s mother and grandparents were able to make it work and could afford to send him to this prestigious academy. The other Wes was not as lucky; he did not receive this type of education due to financial reasons. This is a fault in the United States education system because this type of program is not really available for the underprivileged children that need it. This leads to a vicious cycle where children, like the other Wes, never fully get the chance to accomplish things due to a lack of exposure to these types of resources. Clearly, students that come out of military school are better off than other students for a number of reasons, and the graduation rate at this type of school is much higher than many high schools across the United States. Within the text, it is clearly demonstrated that the effects of military school are much better than that of other more common types of schools. The author Wes graduates a more elite student than any of his peers, including the other Wes, and this is a direct result of going to a military academy.
Both the author Wes Moore and the other Wes Moore came from very underprivileged families. The author was given more role models to look up to because his mother and father both attended and graduated from a university. He also had his sisters to look to for guidance about how to do well in school. Family leads by example, and in this aspect, Wes had a very good example. The other Wes was not lucky enough to have this type of guidance. He was very smart but saw that his mother had a little education, and due to a lack of government funding would not be able to complete her college degree. Wes also had his brother, who had become one of the 70 percent to drop out in Baltimore City, and his father who had no college education, to look up to for guidance. This is a big problem for both boys because the education a child’s parents receive is very important when determining what education he should receive. Wes was led by example and did not complete school, just like his brother. This is another problem for the American education system because children do what their role models do, and this tends to be a problem and cause another vicious cycle for underprivileged families. This keeps the elite at the top while the lower income stays at the bottom.
Overall, education is a very important aspect in children’s lives. Teachers are not always aware of the effect they have on children and this needs to be addressed more often. The school systems failed both Wes Moores from a very young age; the author just got an opportunity to go to a much better school. The elementary schools both boys went to did not assist in giving them the resources they needed to succeed. The author Wes was given an opportunity to go to a private school where life was not much better but eventually moved into a military academy where his life was completely changed. The other Wes was not as lucky; he dropped out of school and is currently serving a life sentence in jail. The author Wes is a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran. White House Fellow, and business leader. Considering how similar the two grew up, the school environments they were placed in is what truly sets them apart. Military school had a wonderful effect on the author Wes and his life’s outcome because of the strict environment and the support it provided him, things that the other Wes was not able to experience at his inner-city public school. The text demonstrates the direct relationship between the type of school a child attends and the outcome of his life.
Moore, Wes. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010. Print.