The Danger of Losing Hope for Public Education

Currently, equitable education is not provided on a worldwide scale. Furthermore, the socioeconomic achievement gap is becoming wider apart than ever, leaving many bright minds undiscovered. This inequity in education is unacceptable, as it infringes not only on individual rights but also on society's morality and progression as a whole.

I find the issue of education especially personal, as public education was how I overcame my adversities, I grew up in a financially insecure, immigrant family in which I had many household responsibilities. I translated constantly for my parents, and I was expected to pay for my own financial expenses. However, as soon as I poured my energy into school work, I learned that knowledge was an equal playing field. It didn't matter who I was but only what I knew.

My free twelve years of schooling has allowed me to become a leader, serve others, and find my voice. I keep this constantly in mind, understanding I am beyond lucky to have had a public education. Without this education, I wouldn't be a Northwestern student. I would be a high school dropout, driving for Uber or working at a fast food restaurant like my parents who could not get a privilege to receive public education.

Because education is so important, students of all backgrounds should be able to attend school. Specifically, more focus should be on underprivileged school districts. Furthermore, it is essential to reinstate authority back to the teachers and students. This is to ensure that administrators spearhead education policy instead of uninformed government leaders. What is best for our students should no longer be overshadowed by politics. By listening to the people our legislation most affects, we can make better law.

According to The Atlantic, educators have criticized Trump administration's budget proposal detailing over $9 billion in education cuts, including slashes to funds for after-school programs that serve mostly low-income students. Moreover, these cuts came along with increased funding for school-privatization efforts such as school vouchers. United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has repeatedly gestured her support for school choice and privatization, as well as her disdain for public schools, describing them as a "dead end".

Such cynicism suggests there is no hope for public education. However, this mindset is demonstrably false and even dangerous. Current discussion repeatedly ignores public schools' victories by trivializing their civic role. Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but the whole society. Unfortunately, the current debate's focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole.

The Founding Fathers understood that a healthy democracy required education. Thomas Jefferson, among other historical titans, believed that a functioning democracy required an educated citizenry. Importantly, he viewed education as a public good to be included in the "Articles of public care," despite his personal preference for the private sector in most matters. John Adams, another advocate of public schooling, urged, "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 expense of the people themselves."

In the centuries since, the courts have consistently affirmed the momentous status of public schools as a cornerstone of the American democratic project. In its vigorous defense of students' civil liberties, the Supreme Court has always held public schools to an particularly high standard precisely because they play a unique role in fostering citizens.

This role is not limited to civics instruction; public schools also provide students with crucial exposure to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Americans have a closer relationship with the public-school system than with any other shared institution. But in the past few decades, we have allowed school system to grow more segregated, both racially and socioeconomically through privatization of such institutions.

Diane Ravich, an esteemed educational policy analyst, writes that "one of the greatest glories of the public school was its success in Americanizing immigrants." At their best, public schools did even more than that, integrating both immigrants and American-born students from a range of backgrounds into one citizenry. As an immigrant who moved to U.S without any prior exposure to its language or culture I can certainly affirm that my public education was a major factor that helped me to become a part of this society.

During times when our media preferences, political affiliations, and cultural tastes seem more disparate than ever, abandoning this amalgamating factor is a real threat to our future. And yet we seem to be headed in just that direction. The story of American public education has generally been one of continuing progress, as girls, children of color, and children with disabilities (among others) have redeemed their constitutional right to push through the schoolhouse gate.

Particularly, the courage that Ruby Nell Bridges displayed as the first black child to attend a white school continues to inspire people. During the process of racial desegregation in the 1960s, this six year-old activist became the first African-American student to integrate a white Southern elementary school, escorted to class by U.S. marshals due to violent mobs. It is noteworthy that the white school Ruby attended for her continued Civil Rights action was a public school. Out of all the school choices she had - charter school, magnet school, private school, or even homeschool - she chose a public school as a battleground to grant equitable education to everyone. This further emphasizes that public schools do not only foster youth to become responsible citizens or forge a common culture from a nation of immigrants; they also play a significant role at reducing inequalities in American society.

In conclusion, in this era of growing fragmentation, we urgently need a renewed commitment to the idea that public education is a worthy investment, one that pays dividends not only to individual families but to our society as a whole.

By Esther S Park

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