Public Education: The American Dream Slowly Becoming the American Memory

Public Education: The American Dream Slowly Becoming the American Memory



Too often people tell themselves that as long as their own children are fine, then what happens to that child in East Oakland is not their problem. Perhaps some feel sorry and donate to an education drive, but that is the extent to which far too many react. Relating back to the early stages of the civil rights movement, Rice recalled, “the civil rights ‘issue’ became all of America’s ‘issue’ only when… the town of Birmingham became so violent …that four little girls were killed in church on a September Sunday.” Only then, says Rice, could our nation no longer “deny or avert their eyes to what was going on in the segregated south. Then it became everybody’s issue…”

Nothing that gruesome is likely to occur in the education realm, Rice says. Therefore, The Task Force was charged with the question, How do you get people who don’t see this are their issue – to see it as their issue? By framing it as a threat to National Security, Rice and Klein intend to place the problem on the front doors of those who have ignored or opted out of our “monopolistic” education system. This framework confronts those who simply relocate to affluent neighborhoods, ensuring high quality education for their children and those who opt out all together sending their children to private schools. The goal is to help America “understand that it’s not about other people’s children, it’s about our country. And if it’s about our country then we all have to be driven to act.”

Among the critical links between education and National Security discussed in the Report, Rice and Klein highlighted two. First, the direct impact upon the nation’s Foreign Service, intelligence agencies, and armed forces. Without adequate education, our children are not prepared to fill these critical positions. Today 70% of those applying for the armed forces are denied entry. Although there are a variety of factors, chief among them is applicants’ failure to pass basic skills tests. Furthermore, a lack of foreign language skills and global awareness threatens our ability to staff posts in Foreign Service and international intelligence services. Inadequate technological training poses another risk. With cyber espionage on the rise, our nation is becoming increasingly vulnerable as the number of people with expertise to defend our nation is steadily declining. “We are literally robbing ourselves of the ability to prepare the future for national security,” Rice cautions.

Second, is our global competiveness. Ranking 17th in the world in math and science, are children are not prepared to meet the demands of the 21st Century global workforce. Without immediate action, we will soon lose our place as the world’s most competitive and innovative nation. “For the 1st time, we are raising a generation that is less educated than their parents,” says Klein, when today more than ever we need to be raising a generation that is more educated than their parents. Pointing to cities “like Chicago, New York, and Detroit” Klein says that children in the 3rd grade are “now being condemned to a life that will be very humbling and frustrating.” Without immediate and extensive intervention, “they aren’t going to read, compete in the job market, or succeed after 12th grade,” creating a barrier to upward mobility. By framing this problem within the context of National Security, Klein hopes that people will finally understand “that if we don’t get off the path we’re on, we [will be] on a path to a very different kind of America.” The today is, “whether we will fight for an America that believes in the American dream or allow it to become the American memory?”

“The greatest source of our leadership abroad is not our military or economic strength,” says Rice, “it is the great American Creed that resonates around the world.” Our national creed is an “aspirational narrative” that says “you can come from humble circumstances and [still] do great things.” However in order for  the American Dream to hold true, we must eliminate the inequality of educational opportunity which for those condemned to lower economic groups, has become a barrier to economic and social mobility.

Acknowledging the “transforming power of education,” Rice shares her own familial narrative. Rice reveals that she is 3rd generation college graduate. In 1919 her grandfather, a sharecropper in Alabama decided he wanted to go to college. He saved up the money that he made from cotton and used it to pay tuition. When he ran out of money he learned how to obtain a scholarship so that he could finish. She shares that her family has been college educated ever since. But the most inspiring part of that narrative is that within two generations, from a black sharecropper’s son came the Secretary of State of the United States of America.

Earlier in the discussion Haas said that when it comes to foreign policy, we lead by example. Rice cautions, if the American Creed is no longer true, then we will lose our standing as global leaders “because we will not have the moral fiber from which to lead.” Klein added, “as long as we divide ourselves in this way, people will lose hope and if we lose hope the global consequences will pale in comparison to our domestic consequences.”