Education: the Cornerstone of Our Democracy

By Ruth Love, Ph.D.

Ruthlovemug.jpgEducation is the major social justice issue of this decade. It remains a gigantic challenge for educators and non-educators, alike.. Without question, every child has the right to be well education., whether rich or poor, black, white or brown, bilingual or mono-lingual, we mis-educate these children at our peril.

As an industry, education is one of least expensive investment that can be made. Indeed, it is an investment in our collective future. To realize a return on our investment, education must be equitable and excellent. It is the great equalizer, the balance wheel of justice, as Horace Mann predicted. There is no place in this highly technological society for an uneducated man or woman. Those without an education and skills will likely find their way into anti social, non-productive avenues. Many will become victims of the prison system, the largest growth industry. Others may join the unemployment lines. Still others will detour to drugs and alcohol. All of these detours are costly, both in terms of human capital and in expenditures passed on to citizens. Hence, by comparison, education becomes much less costly. Someone has said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Schools today are populated by culturally, ethnically, linguistically and economically diverse students. They reflect this America that promises equal opportunity for all. Such diversity should be validated, embraced and celebrated. Where else will students learn to respect and appreciate differences; not as superior or inferior, but as part of the fabric of the world we inhabit. It is a powerful lesson and will benefit them throughout their lives. School systems must adhere to a set of principles and practices that builds a floor and removes the ceiling from the accomplishments of students. I concur with MacIver and Farley (2003) who addressed the characteristics that distinguish districts that are effective at raising student achievement. These characteristics include:

* District culture should emphasize achievement as the primary responsibility of every staff member
* Primary attention should focus on improving instruction, direct interaction between teacher and students.
* Focused attention on alignment of curriculum, instructional practice and assessment (no hodgepodge)
* Professional development and training opportunities for teachers and principals in interpreting data, teaching and making solid decisions.

I would add to these principles, the imperative of inculcating a multi cultural curriculum that reflects the cultures of students of varying backgrounds. I would also add the vital necessity of attracting the “best and brightest” teachers, with competence and compassion, who care about children and are invested in their success. I would add the dimension of parent and community involvement and participation. After all, parents are the first teachers and all parents want their children to succeed.

Closing the achievement gap is a mantra and one that is entirely possible; given the WILL and the RESOURCES. Educators encompasses the philosophy that every child can learn whatever is taught. No EXCUSES!! These educators can make a significant contribution to elevating all schools to high levels of excellence. Children are our most precious natural resources. They are all our children and deserve the best this country has to offer. Education is a Civil Right; a challenge and an opportunity to make real the promise of American democracy.

Dr. Ruth Love, Professor of Education Leadership, Doctorate Program in Equity and Leadership, U.C. Berkeley. She is former superintendent of Schools in Oakland, CA and Chicago IL. She is president of RBL Enterprises and can be reached at rblenterprises@aol.com.