I was recently asked–in a very kind way, of course–why I am so “crazy” on the topic of quality public education. After all, it was pointed out to me, there are so many other things in the world to worry about, so why is public education at the top of my list?
I have a very simple answer: Public schools are our foremost instrument of social and economic mobility. Whether your parents are both doctors and you live next to a golf course or you are growing up with a single mother who scrubs the bathrooms at that very same golf course, every public school student has an opportunity to excel at the highest levels in math, reading, and writing.
Of course, public education is infinitely more useful when the gap between the education available at public and private schools is small. The rich and the entitled will always find a way to educate their children to the highest level of achievement in comfy classrooms stocked with the finest equipment and staffed by the best teachers; public education is for the rest of us, the ones who have the parents who sweat and strive every day. Public education is, in the final analysis, the one vehicle that children born without the silver spoon in their mouths have available to climb the social and economic ladder of our nation. If public schools don’t do their job well, those children’s lives are pretty much circumscribed by where they were born and who their parents are.
Without the foundation that excellent public schools provide from K-12, every year of adult life is more of a chore with few of the benefits. Of course, one may certainly find a way to live a rewarding and happy life despite inferior schooling, but the chances are that much of the average person’s life success and happiness is going to be determined by the foundation built in the elementary and secondary schools your community provides. If you come out with the ability to express yourself in writing, extract information from source material, and do the math, there are doors open to you to pursue a life of challenging and rewarding work and service to your community; if you don’t, those same doors are closed and that’s that.
Lack of education renders you mute and powerless; education puts the tools in your hands to raise your voice in order to change your life and the life of your community. Lack of education means you must always be passive; education turns you into an engine of activity. Given that pubic schools educate the vast majority of our students, I would much rather they do their jobs and produce vocal and effective people who will rise above the limitations of their circumstances to become our professionals and business executives of tomorrow, all armed with a knowledge of lives that didn’t necessarily include a brand-new sixteenth-birthday convertible or summers at an art camp in Italy. In this way the social and economic mobility that is made possible by effective public schools will also produce community and national leaders who have a broader experience and greater understanding of the lives of all those whom they will serve. Social and economic mobility will, therefore, translate into social and economic health–and that’s the world I want us to build by insisting on the very best for the students in our nation’s public schools.
If you are a parent with a child in public school, insist on the very best education for your child; if you are a public school student, don’t allow anything to keep you from excelling to the very highest level you can attain. Tomorrow depends on what you do today.