I recently filled out a survey from the Democratic Party rating how concerned I was about the usual issues—health care, taxes, environment, economy, fair electoral processes, etc. Naturally, I was “very concerned” about all of them because though they affect different populations in different ways, they clearly affect all of us and deserve our attention. But I couldn’t help but notice the one thing that was missing that just might be the most important of all:
Let’s face it, we’re fighting for our lives—literally, in some cases (climate change) and so our focus is two feet in front of us trying to get through one of the more confusing and threatening present times we’ve lived in. But assuming we’ll get over this hump, what awaits us? Without education, the same catastrophe awaits us, with different names in the news and different people casting the votes that shoots them in the foot, but the same nonetheless.
Consider: I sincerely believe that anyone who was properly educated would never have cast a vote for the people in power or would never have mindlessly decided that they didn’t need to vote. If we did our job well in schools, our future citizens would be capable of rational thought, have the skills to research, discuss and assimilate information to arrive at a well-thought out point of view, would know enough of how tyrants work that their bullshit detectors would be on constant high alert. Well-educated people would know how the isms are passed on, would understand how “follow the money” works, would know the details of how a Hitler comes to power and thus be armed with the necessary knowledge to stop it.
But from William Buckley on, we also know that heartless people can have a sharp intellect. So my version of proper education also concerns the heart. To take the child’s natural flair for what’s fair and right and in spite of sibling rivalry, teasing, bullying, torturing insects, take their natural instinct for compassion and develop it. At the right age, tell the story of Emmett Till the way it should be told and don’t be shy about passing out tissues. Let the grief enter the room so the kids can really feel and remember where hatred and ignorance can take us. Educate the children about what went down so they not only know a lot about our actual history, but also can connect it far beyond mere fact to the tenets of our Democratic promise the Constitution makes and the moral fiber of what it means to be a good-hearted person.
Most important of all, teach them in such a way that they feel welcomed and valued and known and nurtured and loved and filled with our hopes for their promise and possibility. Over and over I need to remind myself and others that people who feel loved and welcomed in the full bloom of their character and their soul’s aspirations generally are capable of loving and welcoming others. It makes no sense to them to waste their heart’s energy on hatred or to mindlessly insult people they don’t know or block them from aspiring to their own possibility.
Equity and justice can be encouraged and protected through law, suggested by religion, nurtured by culture, but nothing can bring it fuller to life than happy people. Education can’t promise such happiness, but over four decades of work in a school that loves children has proven that mostly, good education works. Let’s keep this on our agendas, please.