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College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Education Builds Nations

In a recent address, the President of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Dr. Sharon Robinson, declared that "education is the engine of democracy." This is a compelling premise.

I believe that education is more than that. In my view, it provides energy for the prosperity of a nation.

Long ago, the 15th century Dutch humanist Erasmus wrote, "the main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth." More recently, one of the greatest humanitarians and leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela, said, "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." Both are correct.

Yet, Dr. Robinson also is correct. Education is a primary catalyst for a civil and just society – a society bathed in the traditions of democracy and sown with seeds that can grow such that its blossoms bring justice and equality. Idealism – certainly. Realism – possibly, if the conditions are ripe such that seeds bring forth a bountiful harvest. Our prosperity will be assured when we erase the inequities of exclusion and promote equity associated with a core value of our College of Education and Human Development at Mason: social justice.

Education is the "secret sauce" that yields success – the success of individuals, communities, nations, and society at large. Beginning early in life, and continuing throughout life, we grow and develop as we learn. We rely on information to inform our views, and information provides both context and perspective. We learn from our parents and our teachers together with other significant models and mentors who guide us. And, of course, schools provide more than a setting for learning; they provide the opportunity for life development./

We have heard critics and pundits voice concern about the quality of public education as our nation’s citizens and political leaders, together with educators, seek to strengthen P-12 schools and the entire "cradle to career" system of education. Despite the chorus of critics, today’s public schools are better than ever before as students perform at a higher level, graduate at a higher rate, and are more well prepared than ever for success in their lives. In parallel form, teachers and other educators are better trained and have greater knowledge, skill, and proficiency to teach and mentor their students.

Why is there inequity? is a question that merits careful considering. Is it that some of our schools are failing and need to be "fixed" – perhaps by the reformers who critique? Is it because families do not have sufficient choice in the school their children attend? Or, is there a much more complicated web of factors that affects the perceived quality of our schools, the experience of students and their families, and the measures that we use to assess student learning? I believe that we must look beyond the obvious – we must systemically seek to understand and address inequity wherever and whenever it exists. Our challenge, as educators and academicians in the field of educator preparation, is to optimize opportunities and support strategies that engender equity.

Today, as many seek solutions to complex problems by searching for simple answers, it is essential that we return to the evidence. What is that we know not just what we believe. We know, without question or doubt, that education is far more complex than it is simple. Let us "dive deep" and look beyond the obvious or rely on clichés or speak sound bites.

As educators, we must find ways to engage our students and their families, meet their needs by understanding their unique challenges, and frame education within a paradigm that personalizes a journey that leads to learning, development, and life success for ALL.

Mark R. Ginsberg, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor
College of Education and Human Development
George Mason University