We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

As we observe another National birthday, we would do well to ponder how we are preparing our young citizens—all of them—to be full participants in our democracy. Here are some thoughts on education and its role in our democracy that I find provocative given the current status of education in the United States.

In the introduction to their book, Educating for Democracy, Carnegie Scholars Ann Colby, Tom Ehrlich, Elizabeth Beaumont, and Josh Corngold raise the question: What kind of education should a democracy want for its members? (1).

The U.S. State Department, in its publication, The Principles of Democracy, proclaims:

Education is a universal human right. It also is a means of achieving other human rights and it is an empowering social and economic tool. Through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world’s nations have agreed that everyone has the right to education.

Every society transmits its habits of mind, social norms, culture, and ideals from one generation to the next. There is a direct connection between education and democratic values: in democratic societies, educational content and practice support habits of democratic governance.

This educational transmission process is vital in a democracy because effective democracies are dynamic, evolving forms of government that demand independent thinking by the citizenry….

Governments should value and devote resources to education just as they strive to defend their citizens.

In 1924, the reknown and vibrant Black educator, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune pronounced:

“[We must] make known our educational needs and rights, and contend for every educational privilege, vouchsafed to our children as the coming citizens of a free democracy.”

Although we more often think of students’ academic access and success in relation to their economic futures, perhaps we should spend more time thinking of the quality of public education as a national security issue.

(Image credit: School Room by Wade of Oklahoma. Licensed: Creative Commons, attribution).

Share this post: