The public school system in the United States has become synonymous with incompetence, frivolity, mediocrity, corruption and more. There is no doubt that in some ways the system is broken and needs to be fixed. We hear constant cries that we are failing our young people, pushing them out into the world lacking the skills needed to lead a productive, fulfilling life; yet, there is evidence to the contrary (see The Myth Behind Public School Failure in the current issue of Yes! Magazine).
This doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, because we sure do. Perhaps the work we need to do is more about understanding how to truly meet the educational needs of our citizens while having the will to do so, and not so much about rankings. The how’s and what’s of course are important, and those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I have shared some thoughts on the how’s and what’s in previous posts. This post, however, is an appeal for all of us as a collective to invest in our public education system from early childhood to adulthood.
Why invest in public education:
We need a strong public education system that offers choice and meaningful learning options that are accessible and equitable to all. There exists a plethora of data which shows that a well-educated populace is paramount to the sustainability of a society. A society that invests in a well-educated citizenry is more likely to have opportunities for social mobility, a skilled labor force, a representative democracy and a drastic reduction in the crime rate.
Investing in the education of individuals across the entire lifespan has been shown to raise the national income, increase the GDP and is strongly related with overall life satisfaction. Investing in public education is an investment in an equitable, fair system that helps citizens find meaningful ways to be masters of their lives and make positive contributions to society, regardless of socioeconomic background, political ties, religious affiliations or family history.
Education & Economics:
Income level rises in proportion to the educational level one achieves. While this true on an individual level, it’s also true on a national level. For individuals, this is paramount in maintaining a livable, sustainable lifestyle. As one’s income level and ability to meet their basic needs goes up, more of their time is freed up to pursue life-enhancing interests and experiences. For a nation, it is critical in its need to stay globally competitive, provide vocations that pay a livable wage and in creating innovations in technology and production. In order to do this, citizens must have access to equitable, affordable education. It does little societal or individual good if only a select few can afford a high-quality education. Taking a solely profit mindset, if citizens are not educated, at least to the level where they can understand how to operate the products being sold to them, they will not buy them. Manufacturers and designers then have to figure out how to make their products easier to operate, often at the expense of quality.
Education & Health:
The link between education and health has been well-established, as one’s education level has an impact on their overall health. It would stand to reason then, that investing in public education is also an investment in the overall health of our citizens. Well-educated citizens tend to make better decisions regarding their personal health and have a higher regard for the health and well-being of others. The idea being that a well-educated populace understands the importance of personal and collective health and has the capacity to make health a priority. Healthier citizens also spend less money, time and energy on minor health issues, which allows health professionals to focus on more serious health issues. Not only does this help by redirecting resources, it reduces the financial burden that comes with addressing minor health issues.
Education & Information:
When a populace is well-educated, they know how to access and sort through a wide variety of information. They understand how to apply newly-acquired information in many contexts. In order to maintain a populace that can apply newly-acquired information, there needs to be a public education system that is designed for acquisition and application. The public education system can provide the space for citizens to develop the skills to find an objective truth and reflect upon that truth in light of new information. Changing or reevaluating what we thought we knew in light of new information is an important aspect of a well-educated society. The public education system can serve as the catalyst for a society that is in search of objective truths, uninfluenced and unbiased by political agendas or the desire to cling to old paradigms.
Education & Patriotism:
It’s difficult to understand the call’s for patriotism by those who fail to see that the benefits of investing in a strong public education system is indeed patriotic; perhaps the most patriotic act a citizenry can undertake. While there is conflicting evidence as to whether education level influences political participation, we have to decide whether we want those who do participate to be discerning, knowledgeable and fair. Often the media is filled with laments from adults that our young people are not well-educated and lack the skills necessary to contribute to society in a meaningful way.
A strong public education system can go a long way in providing young people with the means and desire to contribute to society in a meaningful way. As a patriot of your country, wouldn’t you want our citizens to be well-educated and highly skilled? If so, we then have to offer an equitable public education that provides the space for all citizens to be the masters of their own lives.
Education & Social Responsibility:
We have a responsibility to each other as individuals and as global citizens. Our responsibility, at the very least, is to safeguard human rights and dignity. Education is more than just acquiring skills or preparing for the next step, it’s about understanding our place in the world and our ability to contribute to a democratic, just and sustainable world. One’s education level has an impact on the ability and inclination to be socially engaged and responsible. In short, well-educated people tend to understand the need to work for the benefit of society at large and participate more readily in socially-responsible activities; whereas, less-educated people tend to do so less.
With this higher purpose in mind, public education then becomes a vehicle for the elevation of humanity, social justice and social responsibility. Thus, it is imperative that we have a strong, equitable, sustainable public education system in place.
Education & Sustainability:
The sustainability of our planet, and ultimately, our continued existence, is dependent upon how well we apply our understanding of ecological concepts. We are running headlong into the limits of the industrial revolution, and ignoring this reality or turning it into a political or ideological battle is folly. As David Orr states, we do not need more research to show us that we need to do something about the sustainability of our planet and species. We need innovative and practical solutions coupled with political will. A public education system that provides a strong foundation for innovation, truth-seeking and problem-solving is what will serve as the foundation for the sustainability initiatives we need for the 21st century.
Public Education for the Future:
A strong public education system is the foundation of society. Without such a system in place, it is almost impossible to have equitable educational opportunities and choices. With that said, educational choice is important, and there still needs to be educational opportunities that are part of the private or independent sector. Educational choices must be equitable so that a citizen who chooses public education will have the same quality and depth of instruction and have the same opportunities for employment and further education as those who choose non-public options. Societies with a strong, just public education system are happier, more productive and socially conscience.
Part of government responsibility is to provide a quality public education system so that its citizens are educated well and can be the masters of their own lives. Citizens also have a responsibility to advocate, support and sacrifice for such a system. The future of public education hinges on the ability of our citizens, regardless of occupation, race, age, political or religious affiliation, to recognize its place in ensuring a free, democratic, just and sustainable world. We must also realize that public education needs to prepare citizens to think for themselves, which often creates a difference of opinion, but that is part of public education, that citizens understand the value of being able to have and express divergent opinions.
Ensuring that a strong, accessible, equitable public education system is in place may seem like a lot of work and comes with a high price tag. We need to look no further than the statements made by Clive Bundy and Donald Sterling to see the higher cost of ignorance. A robust, dynamic public education system will give us the best chance of eradicating ignorance and ensure a vibrant, healthy global society.