06/17/2010 09:19 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Teachers, Students, and Conquering Cancer

As the summer of 2010 bears down upon us, the political climate is truly heating up. We have an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is threatening to do irreparable damage to an entire region and beyond. We have families running out of their unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance. We have a battle between Main Street and Wall Street over which should drive our economy. We have a state threatening to unilaterally rewrite immigration law. And, as you know, I'm just scratching the surface.

But we need to talk about one group that right now matters as much to our future as any of these other topics: teachers. And, while we're at it, we need to talk about the kids they teach. In an era of 24/7 news coverage, our teachers and students don't get the coverage they need, the funding they need, or the love they need. Sure, we feed our teachers platitudes about how important education is, but we don't really pay attention to what's happening in our classrooms. (Just check your local paper's education section (if it has one) if you don't believe me. I'll wait.)

But as the summer heats up, the axe is falling on our teachers and, therefore, our kids. As elected officials around the country address graduating classes and look for a photo op in a classroom before kids go home for summer vacation, they simultaneously cut next year's funding. They squeeze unions. They cut school lunches. They axe teachers.

Why? Two reasons. They have to balance budgets with shrinking revenues. It's tough out there for all of us, including our local and state governments, so something has to be cut. But (and this is the second reason, the one that really matters now) we actually don't take education seriously in this country, and neither do our politicians.

Why not? Truth be told, the reason is actually quite simple. None of us has a clue what the education is really supposed to do. It has no anchor. It has no goal. It has no mission. And it hasn't had one since President Eisenhower committed our teachers and kids to sending us to the moon in 1958.

I want you to stop and think for a moment...what is the American educational system trying to accomplish? I'll bet you don't have a good answer. That's why our teachers and our kids get cut first. It's the safe cut. It's the easy cut. It's always the first cut. I've had enough. I know educators around the United States have, too. We actually believe our children are our future, and not just a photo op. Therefore, this nation must finally treat our children like we claim to by funding their education at a rate unseen in our nation's history.

But I'm not a fool who wants to throw money into a system without an anchor, a mission, or a goal. Therefore, in the summer of 2010, I challenge this nation to focus our education system to unleash the real power of our teachers and students with the goal of preventing and curing the disease that kills one out of every four Americans: cancer. I challenge the teachers and children of this nation, all of them, to conquer cancer in all its forms. And I believe they can.

How do we conquer cancer? We fund math, science and technology in all of our classrooms, from our preschool to our universities, from Brooklyn to Bakersfield, from our urban communities to our farms. We challenge our teachers, our kids and ourselves to do whatever it takes to keep one in four Americans alive and we fund them at a level that demonstrates that we are truly committed to education in this country. We hold them accountable with real benchmarks as we see more and more children mastering math and science and pursuing degrees in the fields of biology, chemistry, math and physics. We bring scientists into our classrooms and we bring children into our laboratories. We give our educational system the anchor it so desperately needs.

And it will take time. Conquering cancer may take a long time. However, along the way, all of our children will finally receive the math, science and technology they need to compete in the new economy, rather than lag behind. They will become scientists, engineers, designers, creators...and America will lead again. We'll cure cancer. We'll design new energy delivery systems. We'll plug oil leaks. We'll clean water. We'll grow affordable and sustainable food for everyone. We'll eliminate HIV/AIDS. We need an engine to create jobs in this country, and we have a real engine in the 80 million students in the American educational system.

And this isn't all on our kids and their teachers. Many cancers can be prevented by healthier diets; real exercise, talking with our doctors, and making sure doctors are in all of our communities. That's a large part of the problem, but you know that.

What you didn't know is that every time we layoff teachers, cancer wins. Every time we vote down school funding, cancer wins. Every time we give mere lip service to our future, our children, cancer wins. Don't let cancer win.

We have 80 million students up to the task. We can conquer cancer. Together.

Kevin Powell is a 2010 Democratic candidate for the United States Congress in Brooklyn, New York. He can be reached at