The beginning of another school year is right around the corner and a variety of feelings are expressed during this time of year. Most everyone living today has at one time or another begun a school year as a student and has a unique perspective based upon their experiences in school. Public education has become a political hot topic used by many on both sides of the political spectrum as a bargaining chip or an opportunity to grind a particular ax they might have to grind. We will no doubt hear throughout the year what is wrong with public education; but let us pause and examine a few of the things that make public education special. Everyone, including people in the education field, understands that public education has issues that need to be dealt with, but this article will move past the politics and focus on what is right about public education as the school year is about to begin.
The first thing that is great about the American public education is that everyone in America is provided an opportunity to obtain a public education. The technical wording granted by law is “A free and appropriate public education” and students across the nation are entitled to this education. While the concept of educating everyone in the country may not be unique to America today, it is certainly considered a system that has been influenced greatly by the United States of America and many scholars believe this concept was developed by this great nation. We must all admit that educational opportunities may be different based upon the area of the country one is born, or the family in which one is born, but every child in this country has the opportunity for a public education. In order to be of any benefit, opportunities in our lives must be seized in order to have a positive impact and an education is no different. The education a person receives is directly proportional to the amount of effort one is willing to exert in this quest. We have great examples in our history such as Abraham Lincoln who pursued an education in spite of facing tremendous challenges.
Another thing great about the educational system in America is that no child is forced to pursue a particular academic path based upon another person’s idea or perception about the child. Even though school officials may strongly encourage a particular diploma style, the parents have the ultimate authority to determine their child’s educational path. Even students with severe disabilities are provided with an education that is specifically designed to meet their needs. Some would argue that only certain educational opportunities should be available to students based upon standardized test scores, and while other countries have a system similar to this, such is not the case in the USA. In this country we still have freedom of choice and the government can not force students or parents to make career choices early in life that would limit the economic opportunities later in life. A large part of the American Dream is that we are able to achieve based upon ability, education, drive, ambition or any other attribute we possess and the government should not impose restrictions upon our ability to succeed. Americans are not naïve enough to believe that some people are not born with great opportunities to achieve and some are born with a higher hill to climb, but our country is still a country that allows people to live according to their particular dream.
Another thing that is right about education is the people that work in the education field. Some people reading this article are saying things as they read this last sentence that could not be printed in this article. Just like every other profession, there are substandard teachers and administrators that have someway managed to survive in the profession for years and those people are the cause of the negative thoughts many people have about public education. The truth is that these people comprise only a very small percentage of the people that work in public education. Unfortunately, students are so impressionable in their young lives that one poor teacher can make a lifelong impression that will taint the person’s view of teachers and education for the remainder of their life. The fact that one negative person can have this great of an impact underscores the tremendous impact (positive and negative) educators can have on their students. The majority of the people in public education are dedicated professionals who are working to make a difference in the lives of the young people they work with on a daily basis. They work many hours before and after school to ensure students receive the best education they can provide when the students walk into their respective rooms. These teachers spend their own money to provide supplies if they are needed and perform tasks above and beyond what anyone would expect. Many teachers work weekends and summers to prepare themselves to be better instruments of learning for the students under his/her care. Teachers go back to school and pay for professional educational opportunities to help them further their own education in an attempt to make them the best teachers they can become.
Students learn to work with others and get along with people even if they are very different from themselves. Some of the greatest lessons learned in school may not be as a result of classroom instruction but might occur in the hallways before and after school. Students are being prepared for an adult life that may be filled with unfairness, unkindness, disparity, and people that would want to take advantage of you. Adults face many of these challenges and must learn to not only survive, but thrive while facing such challenges. Schools are a great place to learn life skills that will be perfected for the remainder of our lives. Students have caring adults that are not only there for their protection, but also serve as guides through these tough situations. The guides are the teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and administrators available to students at school to help with not only the academic but social needs of students. Teenagers can sometimes be cruel, but so can adults. We must learn to deal with difficult people our entire lives, and public schools provide a great diversity of people with whom to learn life lessons.
As we begin another school year, maybe we can all reflect on the value of our public school system in this state and country. Just like any human organization, it is an imperfect system filled with imperfect people, but our educational system in this country is one thing that has allowed this country to become the greatest country in the history of the world. Dr. Barry Carroll has said that, "Public Education is the thread that binds our country together. As public education goes, so goes our country. If the public education thread ever breaks, our country will unravel and fail." We all want our country to continue to be a great country with the courage and resolve to face any challenge set before us. Let us all try and continually educate ourselves as this new school year begins.