An old college friend from England asked the question on Facebook this morning; "So what is the American Dream?". I didn't have to think long about what it is for me, and probably for many thousands of other immigrants to this country. The American dream is opportunity; the opportunity to fulfill one's life ambitions through hard work and perseverance. And with opportunity comes hope and the belief that things can be better.
Growing up in England in the 50s, 60s and 70s one's life was pretty much mapped out by the time you left high school. If you passed what were called 'O' level exams at 16 you got to stay on in high school and take 'A' level exams at 18. If you got really good grades in these 'A' level exams you got the opportunity to go to University. I think it was less than 8% of the population got this opportunity at the time.
My 'A' level grades weren't good enough to get to University so I became an apprentice surveyor. At the same time I was playing field hockey for a mixed team of men and women at the weekends and it turned out most of them were teachers. They seemed like a really fun bunch and so I decided to enroll at a teacher training college, where my 'A'level results were good enough, to become a teacher. Four years later I graduated with a bachelors degree in education and started teaching a fourth grade class at a primary school in Bristol, England. A couple of years later in 1974 I was also invited back to the college as a Resident Adviser which is where I met the exchange students from the University of Illinois.
At the time I had progressed as far as I could through the teaching profession; the next step being a headmaster (school principal) which I knew I did not want to do. The other career path was to be a college professor and teach other people all about the wonders of teaching. Unfortunately, my 'A' level results were still not good enough for me to pursue this avenue even though I now had a BEd degree. "So why not come to America and get your PhD at the University of Illinois" said one of the American professors who accompanied the US exchange students, "It's the land of opportunity" he continued. So I did. I took advantage of the opportunity to get my PhD in teacher education which then enabled me to become a professor in a teacher education program helping future teachers learn all about the wonders of teaching young children. The American Dream is opportunity.