• IDRA Newsletter • March 1999

As public education was first conceived and began to take shape in our country, it met with opposition from various groups who asked why everyone needs to go to school. Why do girls need an education? What about the children of those who wash the dishes, work the factories and tend the fields? Why do they need an education?

There has been a very long period of shaping and reshaping to create what we think of today as a system of free and public education for all. Most Americans today regard education as a means of bettering themselves and society.

But as we examine the social and political landscape, we cannot take for granted that public education will always be here. The forces that threatened the creation of a public school system more than a century ago are still present.

Some believe that the problems in the system are so large that they cannot be solved. They believe we must abandon the concept and the system of public schooling altogether – or at least to do so for certain select children.

There are many problems with this philosophy. Among them is the fact that the problems within our system of schooling do not invalidate the system. “Public schooling – like democracy – is a pretty messy business,” comments Dr. María Robledo Montecel, IDRA’s executive director. “But public schooling – like democracy – is worth keeping.”

Secondly, the reason our current problems in education exist is not because they are unfixable. Running schools and teaching in them is a tough challenge. Society has changed, families have changed, the economy has changed, all in ways that make living more hectic and difficult. The schools are asked to take all of this on and make it all come out right. In light of this, those who run the schools and teach in them should be on the lookout for all the resources, alliances and partnerships they can bring to bear to help them with their job.

The people of this country have proven that we are capable of pulling together to take on huge challenges. We have done so in medical research, in space exploration, in political innovation and in creative commerce. We can do so in education, also.

IDRA has been celebrating its 25th anniversary – 25 years of believing that children are valuable young people and it is up to us as adults to provide a structure so that they can become contributors. During this celebration we have reflected on IDRA’s long history of advocacy and track record in developing programs that work to improve the educational experiences of students who are different. This effort has demonstrated that, by understanding how the school environment may contribute to a student’s failure, we can change those institutional barriers that may block later success. What works are sound, effective and efficient educational strategies that encourage students to remain and succeed in school.

As we turn our sights toward a new century, we can predict some of the challenges we will face. We must renew. We must re-tool. We must re-make schools into creative environments that value and serve their new constituencies. We must empower communities – particularly parents and the private sector – to help hold schools accountable for student outcomes.

What children learn in school today must prepare them for tomorrow. This is true for a job or career, and it is true of living in society and shaping it as well. A free society must have a system of education that is open to all in order to realize the American dream of crafting our own destinies. This is the promise of democracy.

IDRA is dedicated to this promise and to facing the challenges ahead, because all children are valuable, none is expendable.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]