About six months ago, I sat in my great-grandson’s K-5 class. I was amazed at what today’s 5-year-old children are learning and was impressed at how eager they were to learn. Enthusiastically lifting and waving their small hands, these African American children could not wait to answer their teacher’s questions. I observed as they were solving math problems, reading, spelling, writing, working on computers and more.
My kindergarten learning experience in the 1950s was nothing like these children’s. My memories of kindergarten consisted of playtime, story time, gulping down graham crackers and milk, and naptime. The American educational system has changed since I was 5 years old, 59 years ago.
However, after basking in my joy of seeing these children embrace learning, I realized a harsh reality; by the time my great-grandson and his classmates reach the fifth grade, too many of them will have their enthusiasm stomped out of them due to political and economic policies that are rooted in structural and institutional racism and corporate interests.
Most of these children come from poor working class homes. And often schools in poor urban and rural areas do not have enough funds to help provide the staff and tools to help ensure a child’s educational success.
A few years ago, I was doing an art project in a Milwaukee inner city school. The teacher I was working with told me that the school did not have a science teacher and would not have one until the next school year. I was shocked.
I asked myself two questions. First, how could we do this to our children? Second, how many other schools have the same problem? Both questions made me realize that most of us do not understand the problems that many American schools face, how they deal with them, and the impact on students and staff.
I am not just concerned about educational opportunities provided to disadvantaged children, but for all of America’s children and young people. In our current austerity-driven political climate, there have been budget cuts and political assaults on the public school and university systems. Hence, we have teachers and their unions used as scapegoats for failure in our public schools (and not all public schools are failing); attempts to privatize and dismantle public schools; rising college costs; not enough focus to prepare our children and young people to compete in a global economy; anti-science movements; cuts in ethnic studies programs, etc. All of this may hurt America’s economic future.
We must invest in our children’s economic future. And it is all of our responsibility to see that it is done whether we have children, have no children, or our children are grown. We should want all children to get the best possible education. Out of an educated population comes our doctors, plumbers, teachers, engineers, secretaries, nurses, mechanics, nursing assistants, lawyers, bus drivers, scientists, musicians, artists, computer analysts, cashiers and stock brokers. And if we do not provide adequate resources for our young people’s education, America’s future will not be a promising one.