This I Believe: Patriotism and Education go Hand in Hand

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Essay by Delaine Eastin

I believe the genius of America has been the belief that all are created equal and that the way to achieve the greatest possible life is with liberty and justice and great education for all.
Emerging from the depression and the second world war, the Greatest Generation gave us the most extraordinary gifts of educational opportunity, despite the debts and hardships associated with their early lives.  America became wealthy as a result.  Why are we so stingy today with the education of the next generation when we have been so richly rewarded with better educations than our ill-schooled forbearers?
Indeed, in the dark first year of the Civil War, President Lincoln began the Land Grant Colleges and dreamed of greater educational opportunities for future generations.
In the difficult days of the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt did not say we couldn’t afford education because we were at war.  Instead, he called for a GI Bill of Rights and doubled the number of students attending college.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War President Truman was stunned to find that record numbers of 19-year old draftees were rejected because of malnourishment during their formative years, which happened to be during the Great Depression.  The legislation that he proposed to fix this problem was the National School Lunch Act.  The bill says the school lunch program is a matter of "national security".
In the Cold War, American resources were stretched by a massive defense budget and a huge space race.  But Republican President Eisenhower did not say, oh, we cannot afford to improve education. Instead he called for an ambitious program to encourage more students to attend college and to become scientists, engineers and teachers.  He called it the National Defense Education Act. 
People in Congress and in our state legislatures who cut education, betray our ancestors.
Great American patriots of all political parties believed, in the immortal words of John Adams, "Laws for the liberal education of youth are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose should be thought extravagant. "
I believe that investing in education, at all levels from preschool to graduate school should be as obvious as saving Yosemite or digging the Panama Canal or building the Golden Gate Bridge or supporting the Manhattan Project or going to the moon...
I believe Neil Postman was right when he said, "Children are a message we send to a time we will never see."  Sadly, I believe that up to this minute, our generation has been a disappointment when it comes to education and being honest with our children.  Every dollar we borrow for tax-cuts is a debt they carry for decades.  Every failure to invest in education is a formula for America's decline.   I believe real patriots must stand up for America's children.