All children are created in the image of God. That simple belief has guided me as I approach the education of children. This is not race specific or specific to any particular religion. So where most people see education in political terms, I see education as a moral issue.
Every child is a real person; they are someone’s child or someone’s grandchild. And we, as a society, cannot let any child fall through the cracks.
The late Rita Pierson, who worked in education for over 40 years, challenged educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level. Pierson said: “Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”
Author Bob Danzing, added: “Most of the real champions in our lives are people whose strength is their compassion for the well-being of others.” So many public school educators understand that their job goes well beyond what a child scores on a test. That point is being lost on policymakers.
Educators must still challenge the conventional wisdom of the times and open up new horizons for our children in a vastly changing world. They must do this despite the fact the students they serve come from situations that seem like a hopeless web of violence, abuse and despair. I know because I grew up in a home like that. I had parents that struggled to put food on the table many times. I had a father who went well beyond the “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy for behavior, that would be called domestic violence today.
All I wanted was an escape, and upon graduation, I joined the Marine Corps. Teachers at Cleveland City Schools, in my hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee, recognized I had potential. They engaged me and challenged me – sometimes beyond what I even thought I was capable of doing. I learned to also push myself, because of the encouragement I received. Most importantly these teachers helped change my life.
I have been fortunate that I have had the opportunity to thank most of them in person. I also got the chance to play it forward by becoming a public school teacher myself. Now I represent teachers across Tennessee.
Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Reverend King’s message was powerful. People are not merely flesh and bone, but qualities and values such as honesty, courage, and integrity that help explain who we are. A strong public education system is important to achieve that objective of building character.
King discussed education this way: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”
The ongoing debate in the future will not be about training workers, it will be more about the struggle to get our policymakers to empower local school districts to transform the unique problems of their community into opportunities and encouraging our educators to seize these opportunities. No two communities are exactly alike. Therefore, stakeholders must clearly define any shift in basic purpose of public education by our schools and stay engaged at even higher levels.
We must continue to instill character in our children. And we must empower our educators that champion children. “Intelligence” argued King “is not enough.” Intelligence plus character – that is the true goal of education.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.