My parents quit school to help support their families. They were children of the Great Depression. Like so many others of their generation, they had to sacrifice just to stay afloat. Without a high school diploma, my father was able to find work in a steel mill. My mother worked at home to care for our family. They were lucky – luckier than many – in that they were able to build a good life for themselves and their family. But they wanted more for me, their daughter, and so they focused on the importance of me getting an education.
When I think about education and why it matters, I start with my parents and their experience. My family always viewed public school as a gift. Free, high quality public education was precious to them. And it came with responsibilities. At a minimum, they expected me to always give my best in school. They also expected me to learn the skills that would let me go onto college. My parents dreamed of giving me opportunities they never had; public education was the vehicle for those dreams. It was an important moment for my family when I graduated from Patapsco High School in 1977.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the passion I have for public education started with my parents. For them and for me, public education is at the heart of the American Dream. The core parts of the American Dream – the opportunity to achieve personal goals, the chance to improve yourself, the freedom to work toward a better life – all start at the schoolhouse door.
For 36 years, I’ve honored my parents’ personal American Dream by making it my life’s work and my mission to ensure that every child has the chance to do what I did. My professional life has been devoted to public education. I believe that sharing the gift of education is one of the greatest ways I can serve my country. And I do that with great pride!
For generations, American leaders believed that education was essential to success. They also recognized the importance of educating children from every walk of life so that talent and ability – wherever it existed – could be developed and harnessed.
I worry that Americans today have forgotten what past generations and what people like my parents knew so well. Do we still believe that the promise of public education is at the heart of our strength as a nation? Today, I’m so grateful my parents taught me the value of education. Everything they hoped for me – and more – has happened. And it’s because of public education!
But our country is at a pivotal point. Decisions we make today will determine the fate of public education in the future.
What will that fate be? What should it be? Where are we now and what do we need to do? Every week I’m going to take on those questions in this blog.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear back from you on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.