Public education, a cornerstone of American democracy

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. – Thomas Jefferson

It has been rewarding to play a role in bringing a new superintendent for the Clear Creek School District on board. Clear Creek citizens—Board of Education, students, teachers, community members—being engaged in such a noble civic endeavor speaks volumes of their commitment to taking its public schools increasingly to higher levels.

At the community meeting, the conversation focused on four elements: Identifying positives about Clear Creek, positives about the schools and District as they are currently, the challenges facing the District, and requisite characteristics and skills for the incoming superintendent. Our group consisted of four women and four men, so a good size and balance to allow for meaningful participation and perspective.

The discussion of the first two went facilely enough with much good to note. The third—challenges confronting the District and the prospective superintendent—saw a more pointed discussion. It was informative to hear what others considered to be needing redressed, ranging from leadership and governance to programs and course offerings.

A couple emphasized the need for a stronger commitment to STEM—science, technology, engineering, math—education. Others spoke about art and vocational training. With my background in English and social studies, I thought of the critical need for more emphasis on citizenship, cultural literacy, and critical reading and thinking skills.

This process is an excellent reminder about the crucial role public schools have played in our history and continue to play. It speaks of the breadth and depth of liberal education and the major responsibility placed on our schools and teachers. It causes one to appreciate the time invested by those participating citizens along with the many who volunteer at their schools. They stand in stark contrast to those who snipe about our public schools and work to undermine them.

Public education serves several broad functions. Fostering citizenship, enhancing students’ innate curiosity and creativity, developing essential skills are among them. Collectively they guide students and provide them the opportunity to become informed, intelligent, active citizens and productive members of society.

Public schools perform our great moral imperative by contributing to the never-ending resetting of democracy’s cornerstones. They help weave the social fabric that holds America together. Their mission is not a this-or-that or an either-or alternative but rather a compendium of inter-relational, interconnecting, overlapping disciplines.

In order to be a knowledgeable, informed, effective, active citizen, individuals should have a broad understanding of areas not within in his/her natural expertise. That’s what liberal education is about. Rather than limiting or closing the mind, liberal education expands it. Curiosity and openness lie at its core.

To grasp not only the environmental destruction of human-caused climate change but also the economic dislocations, social upheavals, and national-security implications, one must understand and appreciate science broadly and the science behind human-caused climate change.

To have an understanding of polar opposite economic models bandied about today—socialism and capitalism—one should have more than a cursory comprehension of them and their dynamics beyond personal experience.

To have a better appreciation of and empathy for culturally displaced, marginalized, and otherwise disempowered people in American history and the ramifications for it, one should learn more about their struggles and realize how that history affects their personal and social circumstances.

America’s public schools serve to bring cohesion within America’s diverse, heterogeneous population. They are the linchpin of Jeffersonian democracy. Their fundamental statement: We’re all in this together, so let’s work together to figure it out.

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