What things should we never take for granted?
I wrote a blog post a while back pulled from the Sunday New York Times obituaries. I’m not really morbid, but I do read the Sunday Times with enthusiasm, including the obits. This past Sunday the story of Dr. Leon Madowitz, a holocaust survivor, drew my attention. During the occupation of Poland, he was separated from his family, who he never saw again. Dr. Madowitz eluded capture for several years before being forced into labor toward the end of the war. A brilliant student who could not pursue education because he was Jewish, Dr. Madowitz, nevertheless, read, studied, and eventually prevailed. He emigrated to the U.S. and, though he did not speak English, taught himself enough of the vocabulary of science to pass the entrance exam to medical school on his first try. His obituary reads: “There were things he never took for granted: family, religious freedom, food security, and public education.”
It’s the “public education” that stood out for me. In these uncertain times, and with the March for Public Education fresh in my mind, I wonder how many of us take public education for granted. Even worse, I wonder how many Americans no longer have use for public education. In my extended family, I have one niece and one nephew who home schooled their children. The nephew has written extensively about the horrors of public education, specifically how teachers stifle creativity and care only about job security. These words of his cut me to the quick, since I spent my entire career working in public schools caring deeply about my students, challenging them to be their best selves. Though I still believe my nephew is in the minority, I do think that he has a sizable coterie of fellow travelers.
Horace Mann once said, “Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark, all is deluge.” An educated citizenry is a bulwark against tyranny. But I suspect that we are losing that battle. My nephew didn’t want to send his daughter to public school because he lived in the inner city and worried about her safety, he said. Fortunately for him and his wife, both are highly educated professionals, and she could afford to stay home and be her daughter’s teacher. Other home school parents likely have similar qualifications. However, what of those parents who have neither the experience nor the inclination to be academic educators for their children? Our current Republican Secretary of Education thinks the answer is in charter schools and private schools to which she would like to siphon off money now set aside for public schools? What happens when public schools no longer serve the general population but only the minority? What happens to educated citizenry then? Let’s not take public education for granted.