John Adams and Yes We Can

By: Michael Holzman
The latest report on Black male students and public education from the Schott Foundation—Yes We Can—continues the Foundation’s effort to focus national attention on education as a fundamental civil right.  Most of the research involved in the report was highly detailed.  But it is useful to step back and think about our education system in historical and international perspectives.  One of our nation's Founders, John Adams, was adamant that the duty of the state (the state of Massachusetts, in this case) is to ensure that the quality of education does not vary with where a student lives or the position in society of his parents.  Have we achieved that, or do those two factors now define our education system?  I am sorry to conclude from the findings in this latest report that the latter is the case.  The resources available to students, their opportunities to learn, change from block to block, depending on town boundaries and local tax levies.  The resources needed by students vary as much, if not more, depending on the income and education levels of their parents.  The first of these—variations in school resources due to location—is unheard of in most developed countries.  It is not true in Canada; it is not true in Britain; it is not true in Western Europe.  We accept property-tax-based school finance a natural because it is how things are done in much of the US.  John Adams would not.  The second—variations in opportunities to learn based on a family’s “station in society” seems as natural to many.  It would not seem so to John Adams.
John Adams was right.

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