By Jay Steiger
It is difficult to watch TV, browse the web, or read (yes I said it, read) a newspaper these days without continually being reminded of how supposedly divided America has become. It might be Democrats vs. Republicans, seniors vs. millennials, or any number of “us” and “them” polarizations. It is true that we as Americans have allowed perceived differences, often breathlessly played up by elements of the mainstream media, to create unneeded distances between us. Beyond this, there is no denying that there are real world issues where we may have legitimate differences of opinion on how to fix them. We are not stronger as a divided nation and it would do us a collective good if we recalled that talking, listening, and finding out ways to work together has made us strong in the past and can do so again in the future. So, you might ask, what could possibly be a unifying starting point? Schools.
The education of children has been a consistently and universally supported issue throughout modern history. We, the citizens, know that for children to take their future role as innovators, leaders, and the workers to drive our economy, they must be well-educated. Children amaze us because of their natural curiosity, energy, and sense of wonder about the world. Children are not cynical and they are more open to accepting those who may be different. Children are also not able to make policies or laws for their benefit. We, as adults, know that children will need adults to stand up for them and ensure that they are safe and have opportunities to learn and grow so that they may, one day, take their place as responsible productive adults.
This collective understanding contributes to a uniting of communities in support of children’s education, most often in the form of schools. People will place politics aside, economic status aside, and age aside to work together for the benefit of children learning. Yes, there can be discussions about curriculum, types of schools, and teacher training, but the public will always join in recognition of the critical importance of educating children.
Education is transforming. There is a growing acknowledgment that an over-emphasis on standardized testing is highly frustrating to teachers and parents and does not lead to universally shared improvement. Employers have repeatedly noted that they need workers who are able to analyze and think critically about problems. New options in classroom curriculum and teacher professional development are placing focus on this approach. From early grades forward, children are being challenged to think about the “why” when answering questions. This is a good thing because Americans have clearly indicated they do not want robots as future school graduates. Our country has always celebrated the spirit of invention and innovation and it is a notable positive shift to see this embraced over standardized testing.
Strong schools build strong communities. Local residents, across all demographics, know this. If people have confidence in a local school, they will choose to move to that area. Businesses will want to open and create new jobs. The local economy will grow, which benefits community income and services which will then return back to support the school even further. Schools give people a sense of non-political and non-self-serving purpose. How many times have we heard, “Let’s do it for the kids?” A part of us rolls our eyes at the overused expression, but we will come together as a community when we know that we can, in fact, do something good for kids by boosting their education.
So, since this is our point of national unification, let’s start the conversation there. Maybe we are not so separated and different as we might think. If political or demographically different people agree that supporting schools is a good idea because it helps children, then we can keep the conversation going to find more common ground. It might not fix everything in our nation, but it’s a start and every big thing worth doing has to start somewhere.
—Jay Steiger is a parent and longtime school and community volunteer and is a candidate for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District Board. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.