B. Education Matters
In this context, there are two distinct ways we can look at the role education plays in achieving a perfect union. First, there is the woeful lack of basic knowledge as to the plight of minorities and women today. Even if there was more awareness, there is also a woeful lack of knowledge as to how things work and where the levers of power are located - if you don't know how something works, you can't fix it. The May 2011 issue of the ABA Journal contained a provocative article titled, Flunking Civics: Why America's Kids Know So Little. The article is not as narrow as the title suggests. Rather, it describes how nearly half of all Americans cannot correctly identify the three branches of government and it further details how a surprising number of public figures know little about American history. The article could have been more aptly and more accurately titled "Flunking Civics: Why America's Kids and their Parents Know So Little."
Second, education is a basic component of improving lives and breaking the cycle of poverty - especially by those from underrepresented groups. As observed in one article:
[t]he United States no longer leads the world in educational attainment, partly because so few low-income students--and surprisingly few middle-income students--graduate from four-year colleges. Getting more of these students into the best colleges would make a difference. Many higher-income students would still graduate from college, even if they went to a less elite one. A more educated population, in turn, would probably lift economic growth.
As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, "an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." In terms of benefits for the individual, higher education has been shown to equate with lower unemployment levels, more job satisfaction, and higher earning power. Findings further show that higher education levels correlate with healthier lifestyles across all racial groups such as lower smoking rates, lower obesity rates, and higher exercise rates. In terms of overall societal benefits, adults with higher level of education are more likely to volunteer and more likely to engage civically by voting. Higher education for underrepresented groups will help better integrate them into society and will break down the discriminatory barriers now in place - both necessary to improve sex and racial diversity.
Here the prospects are bleak. Many states, including California, have slashed public spending for education. A decrease in state funding for K-12 education has led to a decrease in the number of students directly attending college upon high school graduation. Moreover, those students who are able to attend the University of California (UC) are, for the first time, contributing more to the UC's core operating budget than the state. California's five public law schools, for example, now charge private school rates.
State funding for education at all levels is the key to success measured by a productive citizenry, a healthy economy, and a harmonious society. Benjamin Franklin was right; investment in education - measured by dollars, time, and our sweat equity - will pay interest. Our recent past, however, suggests that we have not taken Franklin's lesson to heart. Any solution must begin with a recognition that education matters including emphasis on prioritizing public education in budget reorganizations and sending better qualified teachers to schools in dire straits.