A Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
No, the American dream is not an overused cliché…
Hanna Skandera, Editor-in-Chief
“Why are we here?” It’s the great existential invitation to explore our purpose. And it’s a conversation worth having with oneself — time and again — as life unfolds and requires us to recalibrate, reflect and renew our focus and mission. Consider this issue of The Line a similar journey, where we bring together some of our nation’s leading thinkers and practitioners for a civil discussion about the purpose and promise of education in America today.
Within these pages we will reflect on the goals and values of education throughout our history, wrestle with what our education objectives are — or should be — and challenge ourselves to consider whether our current approach is working. Are we fulfilling the promise of education for every child in America? If not, how might we reimagine our efforts to extend the life-changing, neighborhood-changing, society-changing power of the American dream throughout our country?
The Line is devoted to encouraging civil discourse around difficult topics. This commitment is ever more important given our deeply polarized political environment and the increasing tendency to speak to or past one another in quips, tweets and sound bites. In this issue we are debuting a new format, which features paired essays on a handful of K-12 topics from some of our nation’s strongest education voices. The intent of these first-person articles is to provide differing — if not entirely opposite — perspectives that give us pause to think about our own beliefs and experiences and encourage opportunity to find common ground and solve problems.
As our education system has evolved, the overriding purpose of education has remained relatively consistent: to develop each successive generation of American children into contributing members of society and produce a citizenry that is engaged and capable of preserving and improving our free and prosperous nation.
No, the American dream is not an overused cliché or forlorn concept of days gone by. It is a real and vivid description of hope for any person seeking to make a different and better life. This issue is inspired by this belief and the recognition that if we don’t steward this dream, we may lose its possibility.
One of this issue’s contributors is Hanseul Kang, a former undocumented immigrant who now leads the Washington, D.C., school system. Where else does a person’s background dictate their destiny less than in the United States? Education is often the central underpinning of the American dream; it is the great equalizer and propellant for innovation, progress and success.
While Hanseul’s story directly illustrates the possibility of the American dream and provides hope for many, the reality is that economic gaps are widening nationwide. Fewer students are graduating high school or college ready for a job or life. From a financial standpoint, this generation is worse off than their parents, not better.
This year, 3.6 million students will graduate from our high schools. For far too many, the American dream is becoming dimmer, more distant and less likely — in large part because the promise of a quality education is not part of their reality. At some point along the way, they were lost, fell behind and couldn’t catch up. Worse yet, as our student population becomes more diverse, students of color are most likely to be impacted.
As former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says in this issue, “If we close our eyes to the disparities in our classrooms, if we resign ourselves to different standards for children of different backgrounds, then we give fuel to every cynic who sees our institutions as broken and the promise of the American dream as out of reach.” She decries the movement away from high standards and strong accountability for public schools. As a former state secretary of education, I share this concern. I believe that lowering the bar will leave our children with less than what the freedom in our great country would otherwise allow them to achieve.
This is the kind of honesty I hope we are able to have in our discourse about the promise and purpose of education in America. When we see the promise of education fulfilled, we see poverty defeated and lives changed for generations. We see the American dream in action.
It’s clear that with the great opportunity of the American dream also comes a great responsibility to steward that dream — the power of individual agency, the gift of inalienable rights and the opportunity to thrive in our differences. I believe that if education delivers on its promise, it will steward the American dream. Do you?
Editor-in-Chief, The Line