This week is American Education Week; a week designed to renew in the American people the importance of a public education system. Although I work in public service, this is an opinion piece independent of the views of the public school that I serve. Education must not be an exclusive entity, saved for those who have been blessed with growing up in a family with economic security or wealth. Society and the American economy depend upon its citizens having a set of procured social expectations, and academic skill sets. Denied of this basic human dignity, certain demographics of the United States will continue to live in a cycle of economic struggle, struggling to provide for themselves and their families in an ever-increasing expensive world. It is public education that shines the light on social mobility. As much as many would like to believe, nobody lives in isolation. Humans are social creatures, and we form communities. Individuals within our community impact us, whether we choose to believe it or not.
Getting an education is more than just learning to read, write and do basic arithmetic. It is about many abstract concepts that are now necessary to succeed in the Information Age, abstract concepts such as creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, teamwork, self-respect, and respect for others. Education is about learning to gather information and evidence. It is about learning the difference between factual statements vs. opinion and bias. It is about learning about other cultures, and to learn that there isn’t one way of thinking that predominates the world. It is about learning the injustices that have come from individuals and organizations who have tried to force their way of thinking on others within this world. That there is diversity in this world, and to understand where that diversity came from.
The majority of businesses don’t budget to train their employees on basic academic skills. They don’t expect to have to spend time and resources teaching their employees how to calculate means and apply ratios and percentages. It is expected that their employees already possess these academic skills upon completion of an education program. Getting an education, means gaining employment, which means economic empowerment. The economy of the United States depends upon consumerism. Consumers buy products. The more money consumers have to spend, the better business does, the better the economy of this country. Cheese is not a necessity. It is fairly expensive compared to other food products equal in nutritional substance. To buy cheese means to have money available beyond the basic necessities. The more money the average citizen has, the more likely they are to buy non-essential products, like cheese. This is good for the local dairy farmer.
The reverse of that is social assistance. Citizens who don’t have the skills or abilities to gain employment, need to be taken care of by those who do. We are a civil society; we aren’t going to just let children and people die and starve. The public education system serves as a social assistance entity in today’s world. The public education system sounds the alarm on children who are in situations of need and is increasingly asked to fit the bill to take care of children in these situations. This is where your public school tax dollars are going: to support a system that educates children to the point of gainful employment, to help teach American citizens the basic social cues and norms to function in a civil society and provide a social safety net for children who are growing up in less than stellar social situations. To diminish public education in America, is to create increasingly wider income inequality, which could lead to an increase in social unrest within your county, your state, your country. Poverty means stress, and stress means people are looking to find ways to reduce it. Reducing stress often takes the form of social vices; such as crime, drug use, alcohol abuse, and other addictive or abusive behaviors. Public education has now taken on a role to work with students who are already experiencing some of these issues.
The public education system is not perfect, and often doesn’t match each individual’s needs and wants. We in education are constantly looking to improve and do better. One concept that must be observed is that public education is not designed to prepare a student for a “specific” job. This is one of the complaints of many adolescents. It doesn’t make sense to take children and require them to choose a specific job as a 17-year-old, especially in an ever-changing economy that depends more and more on advanced thinking skills. “It takes a village to raise a child” — a child’s family is their most important educational ally. There are things that families can teach their children that schools are not designed to do. Additionally, there are things that public schools teach children that families cannot. The majority of the American people know what the public education system has done for this country, and this week serves to recognize that importance. The easiest way to do that is to thank a teacher.
— Cory Milz is the principal of the Black Hawk School District.