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  • Sacred Conversations 2016

Public Education-A systemic problem must have a systemic solution.

How does one address the dire situation of our public education system? What is needed to revive and sustain this dying system? In 2012, I attended a Gamaliel of Illinois leadership training where I asked the following question to a national education researcher and now pose to our community. If our public educational system was a patient in our nation’s emergency room(ER), which is dying based upon their vital signs (low graduation rates, high dropouts rates, low test scores), a drastic drop in blood pressure(active parent, student, educator participation) and confirmed by the laboratory results (research and statistics), who would be called in to save their life, stabilize their condition, and assist them in regaining a good quality of life upon release from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and hospitalization?

All parameters concerning the quality of care, payment, etcetera, would not be a factor hindering care; this will be a later conversation. The question focuses on which professionals would be called to attend to the patient and why. The immediate concern is for the patient’s welfare regardless of how they were brought to the brink of death. The most imminent concern is to stabilize the patient and save their life. It has to first be transferred out of the ER into the ICU (once stabilized), and finally into a regular room (for sustainability) in order to save our educational system, our children, and ultimately our nation-albeit one community at a time. The educational system must come out of the hospital totally. Our problem is systemic and the answer must be systemic. Our nation’s public schools must have a team of specialists called into the emergency room to work cooperatively and synergistically.

Many of the children, in our nation’s communities, are mis-educated, poorly educated or under-educated. There are and have been numerous organizations (both private and non-private), researchers, community groups, and governmental agencies listing the saddening statistics of the declining number of high school graduates, high number of graduates who are not college/career ready, and increasingly high drop-out rates. We must no longer stand around discussing why our educational system is the way that it is, hiding behind false and pretentious “solutions”, knowing that in the past they have failed miserably. We must no longer look disdainfully at the results of past failures, current inadequacies and evade taking collective responsibility for the results. Each generation of children, unable to truly function at their proper grade level, is another nail in our nation’s educational system coffin-one which we are constructing.

If my analogies sound dismal, it is because our situation is definitely dire and grim. Yet, I believe and propose that we can reverse this situation if we ban together for our children. We must have sustainability in our nation’s brain trust fund and it begins with our entire public education system. Any nation, society, and community that neglect this basic tenet will definitely crumble. Many love to parrot the statement, “It’s all about the children!” However, when it comes to making and basing decisions, on the effects these decisions will have on the children, (our present and future), the responses are: “It’s about the budget. It’s about the contract. It’s about the bottom line. It’s about the legal ramifications. It’s about the resources. It’s about the social-economic status of the children and their families. It’s about …..” This list is long likened unto a Prometheus sized ball of tangled string.

We cannot afford to lose anymore ground, passively accepting mediocrity and remaining lax in our quest for change. Courageously hard (both morally and ethically), as well as legally difficult, decisions must be made when it comes to saving lives and so it is with our educational system. Educational disparities, “racial”/ethnic achievement gaps-inequities-biases, funding inequities, and the lack of significant ethnic and cultural diversity in education (on all levels) must be addressed with firm, steadfast, immoveable resolve to change. This honest resolve must continue and abound until widespread change is achieved and secured.

Locally, Senator Andy Manar and legislative supporters of SB16 are heralding change in education funding. School districts must continue to partner with families/parents/caregivers/ businesses and community groups to actively engage them in the education of children. Social activists and grassroots organizations are calling for accountability at all educational levels (local, state, and national). Community organizations are being awakened to regain their visibility and increase service to the community. Students, parents and educators are also beginning to assertively participate in the change. Ultimately, everyone must do their part, knowing and focusing on their part, making no excuses, not accepting failure, persevering despite the obstacles of time and opposition, with mutual respect and accountability. Then and only then, will our patient, the public education system (locally and nationally), stabilize, survive and thrive!

Linda Byrd, MSMOB, BS is a leader in Faith Coalition for the Common Good’s (FCCG) Education Task Force. She is a licensed teacher, with licensed Daycare Director credentials and 22 years of teaching experience ranging from preK-12 including alternative education. FCCG (an affiliate of Gamaliel of Illinois and National Gamaliel) is an organization which partners with members of the community, assisting them to organize for effective positive change. For more information: 217-544-2297 or www.faithcoalition-il.org

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