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Harry Sidhu

Education Shapes Our Children’s American Dream

Anaheim, CA, Sep. 15, 2009
By Anaheim City Council Member, Harry Sidhu

In his speech to the youth of America on Tuesday, September 8th, President Obama overlooked a critical point. He rightfully told students that “we need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help us old folks solve our most difficult problems,” and that if they quit on school, “you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.” Where he fell short was in explaining to them how the history and mechanics of education has been instrumental in transforming our nation.

Over two hundred and thirty years ago, our nation was conceived by a handful of men who had been classically educated. Public speaking, language, and writing were core programs of study. Many of them were well-versed in Latin and Ancient Greek. For example, in their exchange of letters, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams quarreled over the correct pronunciation of an Ancient Greek word. They were required to study great orators of the past because the intention of their education was how best to present themselves. In writing the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution, our Founding Fathers borrowed and built upon major political ideas of their time, but it was their education that gave them the soundness of their convictions and the persuasive force of their proposals.

By the turn of the 20th century, only the privileged could afford higher education. Seeing themselves as fortunate, the graduates of our prestigious universities helped further educational opportunities by giving endowments to thousands of schools, colleges, academies, hospitals, museums, opera houses, public libraries, symphony orchestras, and charities. After World War II, the G.I. Bill changed everything. Veterans from working class backgrounds were for the first time able to attend the better colleges and universities, and they were the ones who shifted the academic discourse and unleashed a fresh perspective in historical and social studies. Similarly, as the country became more affluent in the post-war years, the middle class came to see education as the key to a good occupation or profession. That thinking continues to prevail today. Education is the gateway for our children to excel, so that they, too, may participate in the American Dream.

In today’s global economy, the world has shrunk, information is paramount, and the need for a quality education is not only necessary, it is vital. In his speech, President Obama said that “every single one of you has something that you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is.” To achieve that, we should borrow from the past. In educating our children to read and write, we need to instill in them the value of presenting themselves well in articulating what they believe they have to offer. And as they become more aware of the world around them, they should begin to formulate what kinds of contributions they want to make to improve their communities and their cities which in turn will contribute to the well-being of the nation.

To encourage that sense of responsibility in our youth, we must reasonably strengthen academic standards while maximizing the influence and involvement of parents in the education process and promote school choice initiatives. We must also defend the option for home schooling and enforcement of laws designed to protect family rights and privacy in education.

In providing our children with a quality education, we need to instill the values that made our nation great. As they become more aware of the world around them and the opportunities awaiting them, they should reflect upon those values. Finally, by taking on the responsibility of discovering what they are good at, our students will very soon come to appreciate how their individual gifts and talents will help influence and shape the future through hard work and achievement.