Today we're pleased to have bestselling author Wes Moore joining us as a guest. He's the author of the excellent book, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates and in honor of Black History Month, he's offering his thoughts on educational inequality in America, which he calls "the greatest civil rights issue that our nation faces today."
A common refrain we have heard over the past few years is that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s valiant actions laid the course that culminated in the popular election and presidency of Barack Obama. We have heard how Dr. King’s example, diligence, and obsession with truth and justice facilitated this great country’s evolution into a beacon of tolerance and progress, as evidenced by our nation's first African American Commander-in-Chief. That, in many respects, is very true, and I think that Dr. King would be very proud of the fruits of his legacy. But as we find ourselves in the midst of Black History Month, it is important that we recognize that at the very core of President Obama’s noted rise is the greatest civil rights issue that our nation faces today. That is the basic and nationalistic right to a quality education. The fact remains that, even with the heroic works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the armies of freedom fighters of all races and backgrounds who worked alongside him and who have continued since, had President Obama not had access to a top notch education and then applied himself so that he could earn credentials that validated his ascension not only in his own mind, but in the mind of others, this story would not have the same arc.
Indeed, the academic and intellectual attainments of our President are noteworthy. His Ivy League-laden pedigree places him at par with many of his predecessors and eventual successors in the Oval Office. Yet as we think about how we continue to further the broad cause of civil rights, President Obama’s exceptionalism should be celebrated, but it should also be a real cause of pause and reflection. The President stands as a clear and poignant example of what is possible. However, current reports on the status of education, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which measures math, science and reading competency, indicates that American students now rank anywhere between 15th and 31st place worldwide in those three categories. The 2010 Schott Report states that only 47% of African-American boys nationwide will graduate from high school on time. Both of these statistics stand as alarming, if not heartbreaking examples of what is currently happening with our national educational system at large. Something must be done to reverse this trend.
The only way to turn the exceptions of President Obama’s stellar education into the norm for the many young people who are looking at us now for guidance, support, and leadership is to elevate the conversation on education in our country to a truly first-tier conversation. The importance of education in lifting generations of an entire people could be seen as early as the 18th century, when slaves were not permitted to read or write. Indeed, there was a time when a slave could be killed for trying to learn these basic life skills. But once the slave learned to read, they understood their world better. And once they understood their world better, they questioned their place in it. And once they started to question their place in their world, they were able to insist that their place in the world not always be on the bottom or in the back. The transformative nature of education was shown in America then, and it is no less potent today. That is why some of the current statistics we face are so alarming, and force our call to action to be that much more focused.
In my book, “The Other Wes Moore,” I mention, “So many opportunities in this country are apportioned in this arbitrary and miserly way.” That tiered system of chosen inclusion and exclusion is as old as our republic itself and our dogged insistence on reform towards equality, no matter how slow at times, has been the essence and joy of our democracy. This battle for true educational parity, regardless of zip code, birth parents, school affiliation, or familial lineage, is the greatest tribute we can show to those historical and contemporary freedom fighters. Because whether we like it or not, by not having an honest conversation about educational disparities, we are committing the biggest injustice and defiance of the legacy of those who came before us. In Black History Month, we celebrate brilliance over brawn, resilience over apathy, and a re-commitment to addressing the core barrier to our drive for equal opportunity. Let us truly celebrate it by having useful dialogue that focuses on results and not simply status quo thinking, and retrenchment.
NOOK owners: go to “shop” and search for “The Other Wes Moore” to download this book.
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