Public education is a cornerstone in our democracy that we should not take for granted. While observing the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, we should acknowledge the free and fair public education system that has produced the greatest society in the free world - far superior to dead-end societies of nations whose angry citizens mocked and murdered us on that day.
To the contrary, in recent years it has become politically popular to attack public schools and irresponsibly promote their takeover by the private sector. The loudest critics selectively trumpet the worst public school drop-out rates in the nation (inner city black males more than 50 percent) without ever mentioning the huge overall gains in public education for black citizens since Brown vs. the Board of Education 1954 and the Civil Rights Movement in 1964.
But what if we allowed populist politicians to auction off our public schools? True believers claim a free market approach to (any problem) education would greatly improve student results across the board. After all, free market competition is a tried-and-true method for getting the cream to rise to the top, right?
CEO Jamie Vollmer, the proud maker of ''the best blueberry ice cream in America,'' was once a true believer of public school cream rising to the top until he blasted a room full of teachers in a face-to-face forum on education. ''If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long!''
A teacher in the audience invited his challenge. ''Mr. Vollmer, when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arriving, what do you do?''
Without hesitation he replied, ''I send them back.''
Then the teacher taught him a lesson. ''That's right,'' she scolded, ''and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, mediocre and brilliant. We take them with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and English as their second language. We take each and every last one. And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's a school.''
Not surprisingly, Mr. Vollmer has changed his tune. ''Public education is a miracle,'' he gushes nowadays as he spearheads community support initiatives for public schools.
Nevertheless, critics attack public education even though it continues to achieve its objective decade after decade by raising the average level of education across America. Granted, in some inner city districts this progress has been slow-going.
All in all, there are myriad justifiable complaints against public education, but I am quite sure the well-meaning citizens who seek to destroy or undermine the system do not understand the genius of the great American ''systems analyst'' William Edward Deming. Deming masterminded the post WWII Japanese industrial revolution, more recently turned the Ford Motor Company around, and pretty much revolutionized upper management around the world. He was very clear on one thing; a system that does not maintain a unified goal is a broken system.
Therefore, students, teachers, parents, administrators, and local taxpayers had all better rediscover American society's common aim for public education before the dust of global economic shakedown settles. Like it or not, America's 21st century youth will make us or break us, but first they need our committed support.
Teamwork alone will lead America forward in the same proportion that slashing public funds for schools (based on arbitrary standards of quality) will hold us back. America's worst performing inner city schools will not fix themselves, and simply throwing money at them will accomplish little.
Interestingly, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has found the following strong correlation between school district ratings and average household incomes:
Excellent with distinction: $70,158
From the vantage point of a local high school teacher, I am convinced society's most urgent call to action must be to give all American children a reason to believe in the American Dream. This must be every American citizen's commitment and responsibility to uphold our democratic principles from Wall Street to Main Street.
Herman is a Warren resident and a Trumbull County educator.