Commentary: A Bold Vision for Education

Tradition has taught us that while one person cannot do everything, one person can do something to make our society a better place. I guess the simple advice my dad gave me as young man still rings in my ears: “Leave the world a better place than you found it.” It is a pretty simple thought, yet very profound.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today.  More accurately, it belongs to those who embrace new ideas and a bold vision. Those who blend passion, reason and a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American society will be the ones who will shape the future. This is the seminal spirit of the American experiment. It is the spirit in which we must strive to build upon as a state and as a nation. “As Ronald Reagan so boldly reminded us, America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

Our world is on the cusp of revolution or civil war, as we experience severe growing pains the likes we have never seen. So many battles taking place concurrently over the very essence of who we are as a people. No doubt we are living in a world on the edge of epochal change, where children no longer need authority figures to access information.

For the first time in history, children have new and different ways of acquiring and accessing, deciphering and digesting information instantly. Yet, what is considered important to learn or even ethical is now debatable. Children are now contributors, not just copiers, of existing knowledge. Much of what people learned before 1963, the year I was born, has become completely irrelevant. The challenge is to “think outside the box.” Leaders who can convey this message will be successful.

We cannot be more focused on inculcating memories of the past than on designing visions of the future. This has considerable meaning for art, literature, music, spirituality and other manifestations of the human spirit. The seeds of an education revolution have been planted and are taking root. Some would suggest some crops may need to be weeded out, as the harvest wasn’t quite what we had thought we had planted. Nevertheless, we see the beauty in different ideas and concepts. One size does not fit all.

We know educational excellence is critical for our culture and our country to survive. Reforms which touch every area of education at once are not yet possible. We have to make good choices, and sometimes these choices are difficult choices.

We must focus on kids first and foremost. Yet we also must focus on those who teach our children. We must make strategic investments, and our first priority is to do things that will benefit children the most. I commend Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen for making teacher salaries a priority. We were pleased to work with them on that effort. We know we must continue to work in this area. Our strategic planning process must lay a enduring foundation for the state’s future.

We must recognize a specific timetable for realizing any vision that may take time, but we also must distinguish ourselves in the areas for the greater public good. At the same time, we must do a better job of recruiting and retaining our teachers. Higher education must become more attainable for our citizens, and in Tennessee we are taking many steps to make that possible. In order to transform education for the next generation, we will need to overcome structural barriers that limit our success. We must think about our overall vision and continuously evaluate education goals. This should be expected by all stakeholders and policymakers.

Thomas Jefferson thought we should re-write the US Constitution every twenty years for each generation. Yet, we have education laws on our books that are sometimes obsolete and unnecessary. Either we make history or we become history, is the appropriate adage. If ever there was a time for on the edge, over the top, out of the box leadership, it is now. I hope the Governor’s race and state legislative battles in 2018 become a debate on strengthening public education in our state. Leadership really does matter.

In order to challenge low performing schools, all students should be challenged to meet their highest academic potential in each classroom, school or school system. Parents or guardians must become completely engaged in their children’s education. Parent involvement is a neat concept for old thinking. However, what we need are parents and guardians who are engaged in the education and development of their children. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that the “function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” Then he added, “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” Parents simply must become engaged.

Our education journey may take different paths, but the objective must remain: Improvement of K-12 education will always be a focus, so that the young people in America will have an opportunity to compete for jobs in an increasingly complex and global society, as well as personal self-fulfillment. We need quality pre-K, especially in our urban areas. I refuse to believe that a poor child in Memphis cannot learn or accomplish as much as a child in Brentwood, Tennessee.

The hope for our children is that they will be able to ensure for America the domestic tranquility of an educated population and secure their own personal fulfillment. Those who believe they can avoid change are extremely naïve. Those who embrace change will undoubtedly rise to the challenge moving forward. Abraham Lincoln said it best: “We must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.”

What do you think?


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.


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11 Thoughts to “Commentary: A Bold Vision for Education”

  1. Mary Beth Love

    Mr. Bowman’s positive article hits the nail squarely on the head. Education and change are the norm for the foreseeable future. We also need qualified, enthusiastic teachers in every classroom. We want every student to realize their full potential. How do we accomplish this? We must be realistic. It is easy to say that parents and guardians should be fully engaged in children’s education, but this isn’t a realistic goal. Some parents/guardians will become engaged in children’s education and some will not. Educators must focus on encouraging each and every student to find their own interests and paths. Vocational education must take on a new identity. Students must be able to experience their interests and passions through actual work. By the time students reach middle school education should resemble more of an apprentice system that trains more than it teaches. Too much time is wasted on generic learning, testing, and preparation for all to pursue a college education. Most students should be able to graduate from high school ready for employment. Learning goes on forever, but school should strive to become less not more.

  2. JC Bowman

    Students in classrooms today are being asked to critically evaluate information and sources. It is now incumbent on them to discern the importance of high quality, relevant content. We are moving toward more districts using digital texts, which allows for greater interaction and more specificity. For example in Tullahoma, students learn of the importance of the people in their own community in creating the unmanned vehicle sending pictures back from Mars. Today our students are exposed to new types of information. They will be invited to demonstrate their knowledge through evidencing and content curation. Content curation is the gathering, organizing and online presentation of that content related to a particular theme or topic. Children are no longer mere reciters of knowledge. They have to show what they know.

  3. Lynn

    I applaud Mr. Bowman’s positive, high minded ideals! I’ve grown weary of the constant education bashing that has permeated our society and media over the last decade. As our society has changed, so must our schools. Students can goggle any ‘fact’ within seconds. As Mr. Bowman alludes, with this wealth of basic facts at their finger tips what students need is a foundation on how to use those facts in meaningful ways. Students can google ‘who sailed the ocean blue in 1492’ but can they put it in a usable context? That’s the goal of education today – teaching students how to use all the information being thrust on them.

    To accomplish this, our students, schools and communities must have the very best teachers in front of their classroom. I point you to the following article that describes how DC public schools have beefed up their hiring practices and salaries. ( They have moved toward a “rigorous hiring process that includes multiple rounds of interviews, videos of candidates teaching and a written test on teaching strategies”. Tennessee would be wise to do likewise. Let’s recruit and provide continual support to the most important professionals in the building – the educators.

    Mr. Bowman can keep the positive verbiage flowing because there’s more positive occurring in Tennessee’s educational landscape than negative! I appreciate the stand for and the confidence in our state education department and wish encourage others to stand with him.

    1. JC Bowman

      Thank you Lynn. We are in an era that jobs that exist today, may not exist when our Kindergarten children graduate, and likewise jobs may exist at that time that were not even thought of when our children start school. We must teach our children to use the information thrust on them….in a positive manner!

  4. Well Bob, that is the first time I have been called a progressive. Nobody ever said to disregard fundamentals like reading, writing and arithmetic. And yes, young people are bombarded with unfiltered information. Perhaps you should step into a classroom this century and see what is really going on? some extremely bright kids and some incredible educators. In today’s world because of the availability of information on the Internet character development provided by parents, guardians and other adults is critical. I will usually read your comments, but if you are going to attack my character have the guts to sign your real name. And lofty ideas and vision? I make no apologies for starting discussions. That’s why people right opinion pieces.

    1. JC Bowman

      Write. Voice to text is fun.

    2. Bob

      Mr. Bowman. I am surprised at your sharp response. Taking a public stand on any matter, and certainly one as sensitive as public education, opens oneself to criticism – both positive and negative. I accept your criticism of my comments. Thank you for taking the time to read them and to respond. Possibly “progressive” was not the best choice of words. But you do espouse many progressive ideals in your commentary. Yes, today’s K-12 students have much information – and likely even more misinformation – at their fingertips. However, I believe that I have recently read studies that show that their retention of information has not increased and most likely decreased because of the information flood. I am not advocating a rollback of education methods to 20th century techniques although I am utterly amazed at some of the new methods used to teach math (I have a college degree in pure math.) As you put it, thinking outside the box is necessary. But, I repeat, basic educational objectives including the 3 R’s are required today just as was the case before 1963 when you were born. One only needs to review testing scores to see how badly Tennessee public schools on the whole are failing to graduate students that are equipped to enter college without taking remedial classes in basic subject areas. I do not support Governor Haslam’s unending quest to pour millions of dollars into “free” college education for new graduates and older adults who do not have a college degree. The business world taught me long ago that free stuff was no valued the same as that which requires a substantial personal investment. And Bob is my real name. I will provide my full name should I ever decided to author a unsolicited commentary article such as you have.

      1. You pulled a CNN. Rather than discuss the issues, you attacked me. This was a civil response. And I appreciate that. On free college, I share your concern. I am a student of Thomas Jefferson, having read most of his writings. He too advocated for a free college system. His idea wasn’t as expansive as Governor Haslam’s initiative. He would have only sent the very brightest. I think we should have built in accountability to what is currently being done and much more limited. But more Tennessee kids to college should be a goal. My articles are not unsolicited. I am a contributer to the Tennessee Star. I have also partnered with them on the Constitution Bee. Which I think is very much needed. Thanks for the comments, I enjoy civil dialog, but I am also an old Marine from East Tennessee. I take my honor serious. And calling me names, blaming me for the ills of education or attacking me is unnecessary and may provoke a response. You should write an article. The more ideas the better.

        1. Bob

          Mr. Bowman, I look forward to sharing more of our ideas for the betterment of education and other areas. I certainly agree with having the goal of having more of our youth attending college. But as you pointed out, there appears to be no accountability built into the system. Possibly that can be corrected if common sense prevails, but I am not holding my breath. I have observed a significant number of community college students in another state who received grants that required them to only attend a few classes before the money was theirs to keep. A large percentage of those students met the minimum requirement then disappeared from the classroom. My point is simply that not everyone is interested in an education. Rather many are only interested in a free ride for a few more years. The historically extremely poor graduation rate of community colleges such as Volunteer State causes me to believe that the community college system is a failing effort. I do not foresee adding more students on a free ride as helping that situation. It is my opinion that what has been effectively done is to overload the colleges while raising the cost to educate. Governor Haslam and out legislature has not done us a favor.

          1. It will ultimately change. Probably not sustainable. You should come to our conference next week. Meet me and see some awesome ideas.

  5. Bob

    By reading this I can see why Tennessee education is in such a mess. Mr. Bowman spouts high-minded ideals like many progressives while ignoring the need to maintain basic principles. I especially like this statement he made…. “Children are now contributors, not just copiers, of existing knowledge. Much of what people learned before 1963, the year I was born, has become completely irrelevant. The challenge is to “think outside the box.” Leaders who can convey this message will be successful.” No Mr. Bowman, mathematics, reading and writing are still highly relevant. His idea of children being contributors is absurd. How does a man like this attain an apparent position of authority. God help us.