Achieving greatness with public education

Catherine Choi, Layout Designer

Many don’t realize that public education is under the state’s control, not the federal government’s. States control school budgets and what academic programs and requirements to impose on students. Because each state does things differently, there is a huge gap nationally in regard to the quality of education public schools provide, depending on the income and infrastructure available. 

In the past, education was for those with “merit.” Since the United States was built as a democratic republic, it became crucial that those who participated in politics and made decisions had sufficient intellect. For this reason, public education was only for those who excelled in classes and showed superior intellect while weeding out those considered unintelligent. 

After the Industrial Revolution occurred, people started receiving wages at factories rather than working on family farms. Horace Mann, the founder of the Board of Education in Massachusetts—and essentially of American public education—felt that universal education was necessary for citizens to adapt to the fast-changing industrial society. According to Mann, education was the tool to prevent poverty, establish good habits and instill the American creed in a growing number of children from immigrant families.

However, his words fell on deaf ears as many in the public did not pay attention to the importance of learning. Unskilled teachers taught students and attendance was low. It wasn’t until the Cold War in the 1950s, after the USSR launched the first satellite into space, that things took a turn. Due to the competitive atmosphere internationally, authorities finally started paying attention to what the students were learning and education’s importance for the nation’s development.

In the social contract, it is said that the people give up some of their rights and abide by the rules society has agreed upon for protection and peace. Education is a part of the ‘protection’ that is promised in the social contract; school is where people learn the rules of society and how to interact in their environment. However, the states are currently not doing a great job regarding educational systems. States with high poverty rates are less likely to invest in education and are more likely to nurture citizens with insufficient skills to advance their careers, and the vicious cycle goes on. 

If education was under the federal government’s control, all states could receive equal funding and quality of education, regardless of where they live. Another possible solution is fixed incomes adjusted based on the cost of living, which would aid in recruiting highly qualified teachers. All people are created equal, and everyone has the right to receive the same quality of education, the right to work hard to change their fate, to be unbothered by factors beyond one’s control and to escape from poverty.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, as Shakespeare wrote. If education remains under state control, where you are born can impact you for the rest of your life. The federal government must step in to guarantee equality in public education to mitigate this impact. As Mann claims, schooling is “seed-grain sown in a soil which is itself enriched by yielding” and that the outcomes will exceed the investments.