Why education matters

Students must learn to ‘question with boldness’ lest they be ‘blindfolded by fear’

The author is a former teacher and school administrator who lives in Chico. Her blog can be found at www.eddideromedi.com.

My mother said, “Be a nurse or a teacher; they’re good jobs for women.”

Don’t tell my mother, but I became a teacher because of something Thomas Jefferson wrote almost 200 years earlier: “Freedom is the first-born daughter of science. Light and liberty go together. If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated … education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it.”

What, however, has become of public education, open to all children and providing equitable instruction, the cornerstone of our democratic government? As a student, a teacher and an administrator, I’ve seen the pendulum swing from one instructional trend and one budget crisis to another, but I’ve never witnessed it teeter as precariously as now from a lack of both support and innovation.

Another of Jefferson’s quotations remained posted on the bulletin board behind my desk for many of the 30 years I worked in the public schools: “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

It was a constant reminder that the future of my students, my children, in fact my own life relied on each day of learning in the classroom. As I understood it, learning was not limited to basics of reading and writing and arithmetic. Learning encompassed skills like inference, reasoning, and questioning; it included decision-making based on fact not fear, on deduction rather than opinion. Education meant opening one’s eyes, seeing infinite possibilities and recognizing the danger of ignorance.

Mass production is not education; we are not crafting “widgets” on an assembly line. Standards are helpful; standardization is numbing.

Recently, right-wing media personality Glenn Beck referenced Jefferson, paraphrasing, “Blindfolded fear does not lead to an awakening. Questioning with boldness does.” Jefferson’s full statement, however, was, “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

Those words challenge us to question every aspect of the world, knowing that even God would desire the use of reason to combat the fear and misinformation offered by the Glenn Becks of our world. Schools must continue to teach each generation the ability to question and reason so its members can be, in Jefferson’s words, “fit governors for the next.”