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The Education Gap: Lessons from Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Steve Jobs

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Last week we lost two great visionary leaders whose impact on the world has forever changed our lives. Yet, sadly I think we missed the opportunity to make their contributions to society a real teachable moment for our children. True to form many of us, and especially the media, focused mostly on the value of one of these great leaders and hardly mentioned the other. The truth is, as we look discuss the futures of our children and the importance of education, there is much we can learn from Steve Jobs and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Their lives teach us how to fill the gap between education and social norms of success with character, values and integrity. Here are three lessons we can teach our children.

Lesson 1:
Vision requires not only creativity and innovation, as we saw in the life of Steve Jobs but vision also requires courage, determination and the willingness to pursue change in the midst of life threatening societal adversity. One could argue that we see these characteristics in both Jobs and Shuttlesworth. Yes, but under very different circumstances. The vision of Rev. Shuttlesworth was one who dared to stand against the social norms used to perpetuate the oppression of an entire race of people based on the color of their skin. His vision of a better society would not lead to wealth but his contribution to the fight for equality was priceless. His was a vision that required integrity and character in the pursuit of making life better for all people, those who can afford iPads and iPhones and those who cannot -- a vision that puts people and community above money, fame, notoriety and prestige. His was a vision that said we should all be treated equally, judged by the content of our character rather than by our cell phones, service provider or the income bracket that determines which device we can afford. No person is better than any other based on the gadgets they possess.

Lesson 2:
Jobs and Rev. Shuttlesworth show us the power that exists when we combine education with character and integrity. One of the issues that has been blatantly absent from the debate around education reform and the needs of our children is the conversation related to teaching young people the necessity of character and integrity in order to avoid the greed and selfishness that has ruined our economy for the majority and benefited a wealthy minority.

When these two great men passed last week our televisions were flooded with images and conversations about the contributions of Steve Jobs, and indeed he made tremendous contributions to technological advancements, innovation, and showed us what can happen when we seek to make a vision reality. However, as we saw the accomplishments of Mr. Jobs elevated and celebrated in just about every social media, radio and television outlet, we heard very little about the accomplishments and contributions of Rev. Shuttlesworth as an icon and courageous leaders in the fight for civil rights.

The underlying message I took from this is one that I believe did not pass by our children. That message is one that suggests that success and leadership are primarily defined by economics and power. It is one that does not see Jobs and Shuttlesworth as equals. One man's contribution afforded him the opportunity to make millions of dollars and impact lives across the world. The other man's contributions afforded him the opportunity to make financial and family sacrifices yet still in the end, changing the lives of millions of people in the U.S., and we could also argue across the world. But when these two men left us, we chose to highlight the successful and visionary business leaders, not the successful visionary Civil Rights activist.

Lesson 3:
The education of our children requires teaching them to be bold, visionary, innovative leaders as well as becoming people of high moral character, values and integrity with respect for all people regardless of where they come from or if they don't look like us. One leader fought for equality and the hope that all children would have a better life and quality education. The other showed us what quality education equips you to do in the workplace. If we are not careful and very intentional we will raise yet another generation of children that values one and not the other. Too often we teach our children to get an education so they can achieve the American Dream. What we sadly leave out is that the American Dream cannot be attained without character and integrity. In the absence of these essential characteristics the dream becomes a nightmare for the people you abuse and mistreat as you climb over them on your way to the top.

As we seek to change our education system in ways that make it equitable and allow all children the right to a quality education, let's make sure that we are just as intentional about teaching our children the power of character and integrity as a part of the American Dream. We must teach them that success in the workplace and the eyes of society has greater value when we also seek to treat people justly, with respect and as equals regardless of race and gender. That's the real American Dream. Thank you Mr. Jobs and Rev. Shuttlesworth for your contributions to removing barriers in all of our lives.

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