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.