Invoking its Latin language roots, “to educate” means “to lead away” from where you were into a new place, for better or for worse. Thus, to educate inherently means to change.
Education is a decisive factor in predicting the permanence of reform. UNESCO, too, recognizes how “…education is the most effective means that society possesses for confronting the challenges of the future.”
Episodes of short-lived change, while no doubt serving as fascinating academic case studies iterating what not to do, are per se inefficient and an ill-advised investment of resources.
Consider your next museum visit, where you may find such quizzical relics as a bill of sale for another human being, denoting a base price, taxes and applicable fees. Neatly penned in broad, longhand strokes, this is not unlike what one may present at a neighborhood Department of Motor Vehicles today, following an automobile purchase.
America’s Civil War pitted the federal government against the secessionist States, ultimately reaffirming the supremacy of that national power which the Founders had intentionally designed to form a more perfect union.
The Reconstruction Era following our American Civil War lasted for 12 years, from 1865-1877. Politicians in Washington, D.C. agreed to withdraw troops from the South, ignoring segregationist practices there. Ending Reconstruction was a bargaining chip, because members of one political party wanted their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, to be selected as President of the United States, following a very close election in 1876.
In this tumultuous battle for political control, government leaders expressly endorsed that very same spirit of separation, which Abraham Lincoln had ominously decried by declaring, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
It wasn’t until nearly 60 years later that change directed its arrow into that place nearest to the roots of new beginnings: School. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka concluded, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
These were revolutionary and controversial events, but for today’s schoolchildren hitting the books 60 years later, imagining a place where certain races were banned from classrooms is to visit another world.
This is how long term change materializes, from the inside out. People slowly adjust, another generation is born and then the world begins all over again with a reformed line of sight. When our human eyes change, so, too, does the view.
The courts didn’t overrule the way people felt inside any more than Reconstruction changed attitudes after the Civil War, ending in a heartbeat when federal military troops left the South.
Historian Jim Vrabel said, “The last 40 years we’ve been pursuing a mathematical solution to desegregate the Boston Public Schools, instead of an educational solution to improve them.”
A CNN news analysis also reported, “Many Bostonians we spoke with – white, black, Hispanic, Asian – agreed that if busing failed to integrate as some people once hoped, its even greater failure lay in shifting the spotlight off the issue of quality schools and onto the more mechanical issue of sitting white and black children next to each other.”
In surveying long term impacts, one student affected by the forced busing mandate poignantly noted, “There is a role for government, but we have to be very, very careful that we don’t lean on them…You know, it has to start in our communities.”
To succeed at change, our political leaders must utilize compromise and communication.
That’s exactly how a strike was narrowly averted after failed negotiations between the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Long Island Rail Road workers. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped in, facilitating an agreement that kept trains running and appeased transit workers who had already worked without a contract for four years.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, known for his frankness, has similarly commented about the role of government actors: “I think it’s always irresponsible if you’re running the government to be advocating for shutting it down. That, by definition, is a failure.”
Undoubtedly, America’s three branches of government offer many potential avenues for promoting change, but we traverse the most enduring paths with skills practiced in school – how to think, to communicate and to compromise.
Those lessons cannot be forced; they are only learned. These are tools that political leaders must wield when quelling the seas of dissent, to educate each other as well as the citizenry.
Meanwhile, as political debate swirls and policies shift yet again, many stand at the wheelhouses of public administration, steering in whatever new directions our captains point toward next.