How Would You Grade Your Citizenship Today?

Take a quick second to reflect on the teachers in your youth who made a difference in your life.  Ask why that person inspired you.  Now hold that thought!

“A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement…. The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.”          -Article 9, Sections 1 & 5, California Constitution

We the People of California decided generations ago that public education is vital to a healthy democratic society, and it makes both philosophical and intuitive sense.  John Rawls, a renowned 20th century philosopher, said in Justice as Fairness that childrens’ education “should also prepare them to be fully cooperating members of society and enable them to be self-supporting; it should also encourage the political virtues so that they want to honor the fair terms of social cooperation in their relations with the rest of society.”  If we each think about those teachers who impacted our lives, I imagine that many, if not all of us credit them partially with the work ethic or foundational skills that we consider indispensible parts of our lives today.  Whether you look at it philosophically or intuitively, education is key to our continued societal and personal well being.

Building on the idea of being self-supporting, we often talk of the education system’s success in terms of descriptive statistics.  That may be why during a LEAD San Diego IMPACT session both Scott Himelstein of USD’s Center for Education Policy and Law and Richard Barrera, a Trustee of the San Diego Unified School District, cited a statistic that of ten students in San Diego, only two or three (specifically, 2.4) will go onto university and only one will be in a meaningful career.  That may also be why we define public school performance in California with the “Academic Performance Index,” or API, which if you read carefully online, is a complicated statistical measurement of baseline and growth data whose methodology evolves from year to year.  It’s hard to dispute that talking about education is itself hard, because you can’t quite know if your conception of success is necessarily captured in the descriptive statistics we discuss.  I’m an engineer by trade and have the same Master in Public Policy degree as the Trustee I mentioned, and I would be lying through my teeth if I claimed to understand this all.

Last month in this blog, I talked about wanting to make a difference, and this month, I want to talk about those who do.  It’s people like Bill Freeman, the 2009 San Diego Unified Elementary School Teacher of the Year and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, and Dr. Randy Ward, San Diego County’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, who make a difference everyday.  It’s people like Alan Hallback, my high school music teacher who taught me so much more than just playing the clarinet and oboe, but about life and leadership.  It’s about the person whom you thought of when I asked you to reflect on those teachers who have made an impact in your life.

And we best support these servants of the public good by living the very ideals they teach: civility, respect, and compassion.  We know that education is important, but we also know that talking about education is complicated.  We know that education is vital, but we disagree on how vital and the most cost effective means to achieve success.  But if we can work through the modern moral problem of “us versus them” as described by Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene, “good citizen” won’t become one of the endangered species deserving protection and exhibits at the San Diego Zoo.  Instead, we can utilize the benefits of diversity of thought for improvements in education.  Our civil, respectful, and compassionate support and engagement with the governance of education today may very well stem the tide of growing incarceration expenditure and other social justice problems for tomorrow.