What does equal educational opportunity mean to you? It is the American peoples’ answer to this question that should guide us. To take proper aim, we must identify the target.
“Do America’s citizens understand that public policies have resulted in severely unequal and inadequate education, particularly for disadvantaged children?” Gary Ratner, Foreword to The Crucial Voice of the People
A long forgotten American, Edwin E. Slosson, put it in these terms: “Equality, in the American sense of the word, is not an end but a beginning. It means that, so far as the state can do it, all children shall start in the race of life on an even line. The chief agency for this purpose is the public school system.”
But have we associated our educational shortcomings not with an “overall” poor system but with one that continues to have pockets of inequalities, big and small, that accumulate like so much sludge in an engine? Do we see unequal distribution of quality education as the problem?
Part of The Dream that Martin Luther King spoke of was that children would get a quality public school education no matter where they live, what color their skin is, or how poor they are…I hope this issue still matters to people today.
So what does that dream look like? Here’s what it looks like to me: Children from all walks of life enter classrooms where through their teachers actions and words, the teachers convey the expectation that each and every student will learn in order to fulfill their own personal potential. The instruction children receive is not based on predictions biased by color, race, socioeconomic background, or standardized scores, but rather, it is based on twin expectations — the students are capable and will do their best, and the system will provide challenging, stimulating learning materials relevant to the way the student learns. Children’s learning needs will then be met in the school — equal access to quality education provided.
For children to be ready to make the most of the educational opportunity offered in this dream, the community must step up to meet the needs of disadvantaged children. Schools cannot fulfill their responsibility without parents and communities first fulfilling theirs. We need to define what having children “ready to learn” means.
The American people must provide answers.
Equality, governing by the consent of the governed, freedom—these were our basic American values. Are they still?
Education law at one time embodied our values. At this time, will we define and secure equality of opportunity for children? It is only through equal educational opportunity that the People can fulfill their constitutional responsibility to resist aristocracy – “a ruling class”– and instead establish rule through the consent of an enlightened people.
As John F. Kennedy explained it, “Our present American education system was rounded on the principle that opportunity for education in this country should be available to all—not merely to those who have the ability to pay.”
“Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement arising out of a democracy of opportunity.” Thomas Jefferson