Monday, October 18, 2010

With an Eye to the Future

Thomas Jefferson (1816) wrote, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Our Founding Fathers clearly saw the connection between freedom and education. Given this, the main purpose of United States’ public education has always been to develop an informed populace. Before writing "Light and liberty go together” (1795) Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison (1786), stated "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."
For most of my adult academic life, politicians assured possible voters how badly our public schools were serving the populace. Starting with A Nation at Risk (1983) through the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, PL 98-10) known as No Child Left Behind (2001), education reform has been predicated on the need to fix a broken system. Yet, the more politics became involved in reform, the further the United States has fallen behind other industrialized nations-especially in science and math.
Currently, ESEA is past due for reauthorization. This can either mean another opportunity for true reform or simply another chance for politicians to use education as a means for power. The Obama Administration has developed a blueprint for reform and is actively seeking bipartisan support within a very partisan Congress . The American Association of School Administrators (2010) is very correct in its belief that “Now more than ever, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the law currently known as No Child Left Behind) must be rewritten to reflect its original purpose: success for all children, especially disadvantaged children.”
As part of the college’s International Teacher Training Institute, several times each year I am blessed with the wonderful opportunity to teach groups of mid-career educational professionals from Shenzhen China. They come to the College of Mount Saint Vincent for professional development with a focus on learning about the history of western educational practices and current initiatives. With each group, I become more aware of one fact: we have much to learn from them!
One of the greatest opportunities provided by the current ESEA reauthorization process is for our populace to become as informed as possible. As outlined in a previous post to this blog, we need to avoid the distractions politicians provide in an effort to avoid focusing upon what is truly important. Education that focuses upon the whole child while ensuring upward mobility for all Americans needs to regain focus as the primary mission of ESEA. Jefferson (1789 noted, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government;... whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."
My fellow Americans and lovers of truth, ever since that horrific September 11, 2001 day; before which Congress enjoyed a budget surplus and exhibited regular discourse about finally fully-funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and fixing Social Security; our great country has been on the wrong course! The last two years have been spent on triage for an economy utterly wrecked by the sins of corporate greed, personal avarice, and moral sloth. The reauthorization of ESEA can be the first step out of the triage stage and a return to health. We need to become well-informed so, as a united people, we can be trusted with our own government! Things have gotten so far wrong that we cannot ignore such self-evident truths any longer.
You are encouraged to learn as much as you can about public schools, charter schools, and our global economy. Become involved in the process of education reform by talking with educators, administrators, elected officials, children, and each other! It is the only way we may be relied on to set things right.