The United States government continues to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on two wars that cannot be won. Big businesses are being bailed out, while the greedy executives who run them continue to pad their pockets with obscene bonuses. Yet, when it comes to educating young people in America, the government will only shrug and say, “Well, what are supposed to do?”
Americans are provided with public education, but the quality of that education continues to decline. Education, which is the foundation to everything needed to guarantee a country’s success, is being systematically destroyed in America. Education leads to progress. Education leads to innovation. Education leads to understanding, adaptation, leadership, and while it may sound ripped off from a cheesy bumper sticker, education unarguably is the key to a brighter future.
We are spiraling towards a preventable tragedy. School districts have no choice but to fire gifted teachers, consolidate already packed classrooms, and cut electives and after school programs – the majority of these schools being the ones in the poorest neighborhoods where education is more vital than ever.
This morning on CNN, I read an article about proposed state budget cuts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, education is taking a huge hit. It’s estimated by the American Association of School Administrators that 275,000 education jobs will be eliminated next year due to these cuts, which would wipe out all of those jobs that had been protected by last year’s stimulus funds. New York City alone is threatened with the loss of 8,500 teachers next year if New York’s governor passes his $1.4 billion cut in state education aid. Los Angeles Unified School District has already informed over 5,000 teachers that they will be looking for a new job come summer, while early estimations predict 22,000 California teachers will be looking for a new job for the coming school year.
This is absurd.
When President Obama spoke at the commencement ceremonies for Hampton University, he spoke about how we must narrow the ever-expanding educational gap between the rich and the poor. He stressed the importance of education.
Just as your education can fortify you, it can also fortify our nation, as a whole. More and more, America’s economic preeminence, our ability to outcompete other countries, will be shaped not just in our boardrooms and on our factory floors, but in our classrooms, our schools, and at universities like Hampton; by how well all of us, and especially us parents, educate our sons and daughters.
What’s at stake is more than our ability to outcompete other nations. It’s our ability to make democracy work in our own nation. Years after he left office, decades after he penned the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson sat down, a few hours’ drive from here, in Monticello, to write a letter to a longtime legislator, urging him to do more on education. Jefferson gave one principal reason – the one, perhaps, he found most compelling. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,” he wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.”
What Jefferson recognized, like the rest of that gifted generation, was that in the long run, their improbable experiment – America – wouldn’t work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were apathetic, if its citizens checked out, and left democracy to those who didn’t have their best interests at heart. It could only work if each of us stayed informed and engaged; if we held our government accountable; if we fulfilled the obligations of citizenship.
But these are just words. Action must be taken and it must be taken immediately. The loss of nearly 300,000 teachers – even for a single year – would be a devastating blow to our already teetering public education.
President Obama then went on to say that there is something that we possess that cannot be taught and that is “a stubborn insistence on pursuing a dream.” If the state of our public education continues down this rocky path, millions of dreams will never even be given the chance to be realized.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently that we are headed towards “education catastrophe” – and still, politicians continue to sit around twiddling their thumbs. We could go on for days about corrupt bureaucracies, terrible teachers, social promotion in urban schools, and the failure of our current assessment-based educational practices. Frankly, the whole structure of the public education system needs revamped – but in order for that to happen, we need to continue to move forward. If programs and teaching positions continue to be cut, this will not be only a step, but a giant, shortsighted leap backwards.