According to what I read in the newspapers and elsewhere, many states, from California to New York, are facing serious financial crisis. The budget deficits even in smaller states like Arizona approach a billion dollars. There is also a reluctance to raise taxes in most states, so the only alternative left to meet the crisis is to cut spending.
Inasmuch as education costs are among the highest, if not the highest, of state expenditures, budget cutters are sharpening their knives as they look at school costs. Universities are raising tuition fees; teachers are being terminated, resulting in larger class size; and needed construction is being postponed. While this may provide temporary relief, in the long run such actions may prove costly.
It is an established fact that one of the all-time greatest investments this country has ever made was the G.I. Bill of Rights which enabled hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of veterans to obtain a college education. This country has reaped countless benefits from the increase in our store of knowledge and its distribution among such a large number of our young people.
Economic pressure is not all bad though, for it forces us to seek ways to become more efficient or get more “bang for the buck.” When I served on our local school board, I learned that the primary function of education is to transmit the culture from the current and past generations on to the next generation.
But I also became aware of the tremendous pressure placed upon our public education system to become an instrument for social change. This added “mission” has also carried a price tag and appears to be headed for reconsideration.
The efficiency of charter schools and home teaching are among concepts being evaluated. New teaching methods are also being suggested. One minister, a good friend of mine, sensitive to the high divorce rate we are experiencing, said that if he were teaching math, he would do so in the context of personal financial management, rather than in abstract terms. It would seem that many young people who can factor a quadratic equation cant manage their finances. It would be better if they understood compound interest in terms of the interest they pay on credit card purchases rather than studying sterile interest tables. Financial ills are one of the major causes for divorce and are preventable.
A professor at Indiana University opined that if he were teaching history, he would do so by lifting up the life and accomplishments of heroes. He reasoned that in any particular period of history there were people who made things happen, and the study of their lives would make history live and become more relevant and memorable in terms of what happened and why.
My own reading of the biographies of some of our founding fathers would certainly bear out that proposition.
I am a great believer in and supporter of public education, and I believe that somehow we will get through this crisis and hopefully be stronger because of this economically induced examination. Education is still the best investment our society makes to retain our leadership among the community of nations.