Over the last 150 years, the educational process at work in our schools, both public and private, has evolved slowly through a steady stream of incremental reforms. During those same 150 years, American society has changed exponentially. A combination of a growing population; increasing diversity; immigration, both legal and not; advancements in technology that would have seemed unimaginable even two decades ago; a crumbling infrastructure; a more competitive world marketplace; a fragile ecosystem; and, a far more complex political environment place great pressure on a democratic form of government.
Democracy depends upon our public schools to prepare young people for the responsibilities of citizenship and to be productive members of society. In the dynamic world in which we live, the current American educational process is ill-equipped to meet the needs of an incredibly diverse population of children, a significant percentage of whom are disadvantaged. If we were creating an educational process from scratch, given what we now know that process would look much different than it does today. It would be structured to produce the outcomes we want.
In order to alter this reality, we must start by clarifying the purpose of public education in America. As simply as we can state that purpose, it is to prepare our nation’s children for the responsibilities of citizenship and to help them develop the knowledge and skills they will need to become productive citizens. We must work to help each child maximize their talents and abilities so they will be able to enter adulthood with a menu of choices for what they want to do with their lives in order to find happiness and meaning. We also want them to be able to create value and add wealth to society. Of equal importance is that they be able to carry out their civic responsibilities as members of a participatory democracy. This requires that they have sufficient understanding of the complex issues facing our society to make thoughtful decisions.
We want their education to be well-rounded to include language arts and mathematics skills; a solid understanding of the natural world (science); a grasp of history in hopes that they can learn from our mistakes; and, finally, a full appreciation of the diverse cultures of humanity as expressed through the arts and social sciences. We need to teach them that diversity is our greatest strength as a nation.
During the balance of this Twenty-first Century, the world will continue to undergo unprecedented changes that will challenge the ability of our planet’s diverse population to live together in peace. We must address the issues of hunger, health, and economic welfare while protecting our natural habitat. We must do all of these things in the midst of the hatred some people have for others and in spite of the horrible violence people do to one another.
As a nation, we cannot be successful bickering among ourselves and neither can we meet our objectives if we must continue to support an ever-larger segment of people who live in poverty. Add caring for the steadily aging baby boomer generation and the burden will soon be overwhelming.
A significant emphasis of conservative right Americans is that it is time to cut off those who depend on government assistance. The problem, of course, is that these millions of Americans who are dependent are not going to slip away into oblivion and let the rest of the population do their own thing.
We must also recognize that there will be a shift in political power over the balance of this century. According to the projections of the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2060, the population of non-Hispanic whites is projected to decline from 62 percent, today, to an estimated 44 percent of the total US population. Any illusions white Americans have that they will continue to rule the roost into the latter half of this century are pure fantasy, which may explain, at least in part, the vehement demands that refugees be barred from entry and that illegals be returned to their home nations.
If we are committed to the preservation of the great American democracy, we must invite the poor and the non-white to become full and equal partners. Somehow, we must close the gap between white students and their black and other minority classmates. This requires that we make the reinvention of public education in America our highest priority.
If we continue to allow these children to fail, we all fail.