Public Education is the foundation for a thriving democracy. Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of a free and proper public education for all children. John Adams wrote, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
Adams’ political rival, and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, would go even further, warning citizens if they refuse to invest in public education then “kings, priests, and nobles will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” These two great Founding Fathers knew that an adequate education of the whole public was the key component to continue and enhance the path they set before us. When public education is attacked and demoralized by wealthy ideologues then that path drifts off course to benefit the wealthy and elite. Jefferson’s words should echo in our ears and stir our souls.
As a Christian, education is central to my faith. As Rev. Charlie Johnson, Founder of Pastors for Texas Children, pointed out, when God created humanity He gave man the task of naming the animals. Naming items is at the core of learning, thus making education a natural right for all human beings. Jesus of Nazareth understood this in a very personal way. As a young boy with questionable birth, he was not allowed to have a formal education like the other children. Therefore, he felt the sting of elitism hinder his childhood education. No wonder, as an adult, he rebuked his disciples for preventing children from coming to him. He was a rabbi for goodness sakes, and the children needed a teacher.
As a citizen and person of faith, I have come to understand the transformative gift that education offers a student. In both my public education in Oklahoma and my formal seminary training, teachers have opened new ideas and methodologies where I thought none were present. Teachers have challenged me to stretch my mind in order to assess and respond with fresh eyes and active hands. Teachers have empowered me with historic and modern information that I might utilize to understand the past and creatively invent future opportunities. Teachers have not given me the answers, but provided me the tools of discovery in order to find the answers for myself. In other words, they refused to let me live in ignorance but encouraged me to be a life-long learner.
Why is public education so important? Public education sheds light into darkness. It combats ignorance with knowledge. It emboldens students with facts and creativity. It demonstrates that no matter who you are…no matter how much money your parents possess…no matter your family’s lack of political collateral…a free and adequate public education can provide opportunity for the pursuit of the American dream. While some want to keep the dream for only themselves and those like them, there are some in the world that wish to offer it to every child. Therefore, I must agree with Adams and Jefferson, let education and educators lead the way for a better tomorrow. In this day when ignorance and truth is maligned, we need to re-emphasize the importance of public education to a healthy and prosperous democracy.