Friday, July 24, 2009

A Glorious Mission - Senator Gumm's Local "Senate Minute" Column

DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everyone! One of the values on which I will never waver is my support for public education.

Public schools are charged with giving every child a chance to become everything God intends for them to be. It is as daunting, noble and glorious a mission as any taken on by our nation. Given the importance of this mission, I am amazed at the eagerness some have to abandon public education when we all should be rallying behind it.

Public school teachers face extraordinary challenges every day. Certainly, some children come from traditional two-parent families. They get nutritious breakfasts before leaving for school and complete their homework in stable environments with nurturing parents who have time to help.

Public schools, however, also must educate children who are not so fortunate, those facing challenges many of us can scarcely imagine. Compared to educating every child from every circumstance, a flight to the moon is a walk in the park.

Our nation’s history is replete with successes of those who overcame seemingly impossible odds with the foundation earned in public schools. America’s position as the world’s sole remaining superpower is rooted in the fact that every child has a chance to get a public education. It is the foundation on which the strength of our nation is built.

Rather than working to strengthen public education, some simply suggest we abandon public schools. The most common form of abandonment is schemes whereby taxpayer dollars are stripped from public education and given to private schools.

The myth of these voucher schemes is that private schools would accept the mission of public schools: to educate every child. Even under “universal” voucher schemes, private schools have neither the capacity nor desire to educate every child.

Proponents of vouchers repeat their myth with unabated fervor furthering their goal of weakening people’s confidence in public schools. A recent column in a statewide newspaper is a perfect example of that.

The author cited opinion polls suggesting Oklahomans are losing confidence in public schools. No wonder, given the relentless attacks on public schools repeatedly launched by those who share his view.

I am reminded of the words of President Harry Truman, “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” It takes “carpenters” – including parents, teachers and community leaders – to build public schools and truly improve educational opportunity for all. That should be our focus.

Certainly, private schools have an important role in education. Private schools, however, will never accept every child.

That mission must remain with public schools. Anything less would lead to the creation of an academic elite based on the wealth of parents rather than the ability of children. Such an elitist system, at odds with our national value of “all are created equal,” is the dark side of their myth whose shadows would creep into every segment of society.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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