Public Education is Social Justice for Children

Once upon a time, a weighty quote adorned the wall in the lobby of one elementary school in Prince George’s County.  Aristotle predicted two millennia ago that “the fate of empires shall depend on the education of children.”  What was true for empires so long ago must surely still be true for communities today. When will we demonstrate the resolve to furnish educational opportunities to our own children in order to prepare them to compete in the information age?

There is blame enough to go around. Take one part poverty; mix in some absentee parenting and a workforce that is chronically overworked, underpaid and unappreciated; let stand interminably in a crumbling, overcrowded physical plant; baste in rampant social darwinism; then garnish with peer pressure and a large dose of reality television. The fetid dish that is served up will surely taste of despair. The political elite of this jurisdiction will never resolve all the challenges listed here, but the time has come for the community to ensure that children access schools founded on Dr. Thornton’s vision of adequacy and equity.

We continue to allocate our precious resources on teacher training only to see classroom instructors flee to surrounding jurisdictions, if not from the profession entirely, in response to untenable working conditions. Classes are still overcrowded and we depend too much on unlimited altruism from the workforce just to make things run while fretting over the infrequency of optimal educational outcomes. This demonstrates all the logic of a farmer beating his horse for failing to pull a wagon piled too high with hay.

To do the right thing is not always politically expedient. It is incumbent upon us as a community, instead, to determine the true cost of educating 130,000 students and do what is necessary to foot the bill. Period. No alibis, no “if only…”, no excuses.

Businesses will relocate to locales that commit the necessary resources to education, because that satisfies current employees and furnishes the skills of future employees. Ultimately, who will pay top dollar for a home in our neighborhoods if the classrooms have ceilings that leak, marginally qualified instructors, outdated materials and abridged curricula?

One popular refrain is that educational problems are not resolved by a large influx of money. First, one is forced to wonder when and where this hypothesis has ever been tested in earnest. We do know, however, that jurisdictions with the highest rankings in socio-economic status almost invariably perform better on standardized tests: money, and the opportunity it provides, is a factor. Therefore, it is incumbent upon parents, teachers, concerned citizens and the business sector of Prince George’s County to demand with vigor an education budget that competes favorably with surrounding jurisdictions. As expensive a proposition as this is, we can ill afford the consequences of doing otherwise. 

[Adapted from my first letter to the editor at the Washington Post on 12/11/1999]8.]

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