Last week I wrote about a grim reality: the murder of young students in New Orleans. This week I turn to what is probably a fantasy: the idea that our most influential educators would speak out against this stain on our culture and threat to our future.
That raises two questions:
1) Who are America's most prominent and influential educators?
2) What could they possibly agree to say publicly that would go beyond generalities and grab the nation's attention?
Because any list of influential educators would draw from across the political and ideological spectrum, wouldn't that necessarily mean that the statement would end up being namby-pamby pablum, something about "supporting the right of all students to education" or some other equally bland declaration? The country is increasingly polarized, with our nation's capital leading the way, and it takes real courage for people in power to speak out on anything controversial.
Want to start with the list, or should we try drafting a statement?
How about we do both at once? You may not recognize all of the proposed names, but you will most likely know enough of them to grasp their political differences.
"As patriotic Americans and dedicated educators, we are speaking out with one voice today. We (Arne Duncan, Wendy Kopp, Diane Ravitch, Harold McGraw III, Alfie Kohn and Shirley Tilghman) are appalled by the senseless violence that too many of our youth are enduring."
"Furthermore, we (Randi Weingarten, Michelle Rhee, Monty Neill, David Levin, Mike Feinberg, Drew Faust, Joel Klein and Ted Kolderie) believe that sensible Americans -- the vast majority -- must now confront the special interest groups that have cowed the U. S. Congress into cowardice."
"As a group, we (Dennis van Roekel, Howard Gardner, Lamar Alexander, Rod Paige, Jonathan Kozol, Father Theodore Hesburgh, Jeanne Allen, Richard Riley and Margaret Spellings) represent all points on the political spectrum. Although we disagree on some issues, to a person, we believe that...."
Go ahead, finish the sentence.
These men and women have fundamental differences. Some believe that government is an essential part of the solution, while others see government as a barrier. Some trust that the vast majority of teachers are committed to the education of all children; others question what they see as protectionism of ineffective teachers as a core problem.
What do you suppose that all of these good men and women agree upon? What sort of strong statement would they all sign their names to, in an effort to wake this nation up?
I'm certain they think it's wrong that about 25 percent of our children may be growing up in poverty, living in substandard housing, receiving inadequate nutrition and health care and attending substandard schools.
But how many of them would support the "Buffett Rule" that would have fabulously wealthy citizens pay more in taxes? Or require hedge fund managers to pay 35 percent on their gains, not the current 15 percent because, after all, they are NOT risking their own money and are taking a guaranteed 20 percent off the top even if their investments of other people's money go south?
I am sure that the decent men and women mentioned above are appalled by the violence that afflicts children today, but how many would speak in favor of closing the loopholes that allow people to buy guns, no questions asked, at gun fairs in some states? Or speak out against laws that allow people to carry weapons openly? Or against laws that allow people to buy assault weapons (whose only function is to kill)?
Of course, a ringing statement doesn't have to be crafted out of whole cloth. The United Nations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the International Red Cross, UNICEF and other related groups have spent years on this issue (see "Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child' in 1924).
Or this, from 1959: "The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration." (United Nations resolution)
In recent years, these international groups have paid special attention to children in war zones.
Hello! What are many of our inner cities, if not the equivalent of war zones?
Educators often present themselves as occupying the moral high ground, dedicating their lives to the nurturing of our children and youth. It's easy to live up on the hill when things are chugging along, but that's not the case now. So now, at least as I see it, it's time for the university presidents, the school reformers and everyone else who claims to be devoted to children to put aside their political allegiances and make their voices heard.