Make 2023 the Year of the Education Advocate
The Work Required for a More Perfect Union
American democracy is a radical notion. On July 4, 1776, our nation’s founders declared a vision for rule by the people that changed the course of the modern world. This group of men didn’t see women or people of color holding power in this new society, but they realized that democracy could not succeed without robust education. Today, that critical relationship is in danger.
Our young people are counting on an education that prepares them to work, develops their sense of self, and helps them engage as citizens. But even before COVID and the recent NAEP results, it was clear that we were not on track. Our collective future is at stake. If ever there was a time to be an education advocate, it’s now.
We Get What We’re Willing to Fight For
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” Democracy doesn’t maintain itself. It’s participatory.
In 1780, John Adams placed education at the center of the Massachusetts Constitution. As Derek W. Black notes in Schoolhouse Burning, “The Constitution declared that ‘wisdom and knowledge . . . diffused generally among the body of the people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties. . . . [Thus,] it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the . . . public schools.’”
The Founders had flawed notions of equality–a truth revealed through education and critical thinking. But generations of Americans have agreed over time that it’s still an ideal worth fighting for.
Therefore, we must again ask ourselves what we want education to do for us. Many see the potential for public education to be “the great equalizer,” but that potential has not yet been realized in practice. That leaves future generations–our generation–with the responsibility to see to true liberty for all. We must make the future.
Where We Go Next
Over the last two years, we have seen the political pendulum swing into public education. Many have called on leaders to root out racism in our institutions and champion a more fair society. But, as has been true during past periods of progress, detractors have met those demands with backlash. So what do we do?
First, we must foster broad agreement that a fair and just education is the minimum we will accept. That education must cultivate critical thinking, belief in oneself, resilience, and care for the good of society. We live in a diverse nation, which presents unique opportunities to make new discoveries and accelerate social progress, but only if we prepare all people to benefit and take part.
Next, we must judge success based on whether the system we have produces equitable results. That belief is ingrained in federal law. Persistent gaps in access and opportunity have denied generations of Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, and economically disenfranchised people from accessing the learning they need to build the lives they deserve. As corrupt actors try to distract us from this truth, they keep us from realizing a society where we can all thrive together. Those with power must think carefully about how their choices in the classroom and beyond retain or repair this unsustainable status quo.
Finally, we must agree that education is about truth. That’s why we have made it our work to define and demonstrate how to teach for equity. Some may try to keep our children from books that celebrate the richness of human experience, aim to silence the learnings necessary to foster empathy and belief in our shared humanity, and deny communities equitable resources, but we know better. History shows us that the side of justice will win if we put in the work.
No matter what happens, we at Leading Educators will stay by your side, working tirelessly toward the fair future we all deserve.
Note: As a 501(c)(3) organization, Leading Educators is prohibited from participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.