Public Education: A Social Good and A Stepping Stone

by Gabrielle Rejouis

In light of the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, experts and proponents for public education raise concerns about the future of state-funded education in America.[1] While I attended private school from preschool through 12th grade, my experiences as a first-generation American has influenced my understanding of the importance and need for free public education. Free public education was not an option when my parents grew up in Haiti. They both attended private school. My paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother immigrated to America to work and would send money back to Haiti to pay for the cost of my parents’ tuition and uniforms. Both sets of my grandparents valued education. When my parents immigrated to the United States and joined their parents in New Jersey as teenagers, they completed their high school education at public school before earning their bachelors and master degrees. Public education provided a bridge for my parents to navigate the new culture and new surroundings. It also allowed my parents to establish a strong foundation in America and lift their family out of poverty.

When our history class learned about Horace Mann’s education reform in Massachusetts, it made perfect sense to me that the state should provide education to its citizens.[2] My parents always presented education as a privileged necessity to me—much like paved roads and electricity: You could live without it but life would be more difficult. If a society will only be as successful as the people running it, I concluded states should ensure citizens are educated and have the tools to both govern themselves and continue to improve the society they live in. It was astounding to think that at one time it was radical or revolutionary to think that education should be provided to all. I thought of the stories my parents told of needing money to get a primary or secondary education in Haiti. It is the story of children in other developing countries and cost is one of many hurdles students face in their pursuit of education. Public education in Haiti would create a social revolution reducing the gap between elites and the average citizen. By providing education to every citizen regardless of wealth, more children would be able to graduate from high school and attend local and international universities. A broader, diverse education would help break the harmful traditions perpetuated in ignorance (such as the widespread deforestation and resulting environmental crisis). A more educated populace would challenge the current and often corrupt political climate and help democracy take better root in the island nation. Better education would allow Haitians to secure better international or domestic jobs and bring money into the Haitian economy. Rather than attempt to spur the economy through NGOs and foreign entities, raising up the lower class through public education would benefit everyone rather than a select few. A greener culture, transparent politics, and stronger economy would help curb or eliminate the instability in Haiti and allow the country to best address the needs of the people. I would hope for the same benefits public education contributed to America to also help Haiti grow.

My parents and grandmother pressed upon me the importance of education in opening doors. My family further told me nothing they could leave me would be as valuable as education; and did all that they could to ensure I had the resources I needed to do my best. Education has provided upward mobility to immigrants, like my parents, and to the children of immigrants, like me, in this country for centuries. Education provides an escape from poverty. Education and knowledge play instrumental roles in solving the social problems communities face. We see similar arguments made in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. [3] Public education provides a social good that will continue to close the income gap and it would be ungrateful of our generation not to ensure future generations can benefit from it. Let us take action and call on our Congressmen to protect public education.

[1] Valerie Strauss, A sobering look at what Betsy DeVos did to education in Michigan – and what she might do as secretary of education, Wash. Post, Dec. 8, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/12/08/a-sobering-look-at-what-betsy-devos-did-to-education-in-michigan-and-what-she-might-do-as-secretary-of-education/?utm_term=.735eef2e8770. (Opponents raise concerns about DeVos’ lack of experience in education and her support of vouchers which are seen as an attack on public school education)

[2] Biography.com Editors, Horace Mann, Biography.com, Jan. 4, 2017, http://www.biography.com/people/horace-mann-9397522#manns-six-principles-of-education.

[3] See Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483, 493 (1954).