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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Our Union of Learning and Liberty

January 13, 2002|JACQUELINE PRICE

As an American and an educator, I have given much thought since Sept. 11 to what makes the United States special. The events of that day caused me to realize there have been few times in the short history of our republic that our values and way of life have felt more precious and essential to Americans than today.

Fundamental to our very foundation as a nation of civilized people is the simple fact that the United States is a democracy.

This is not a new concept.

The Greeks governed themselves in a democratic manner more than 2,500 years ago. What the Greeks conceived, however, we Americans propelled to greater heights.

Maintaining a democratic society in today's complex world has been the hallmark of our success as a leader among nations.

My greatest wish for the coming year is that adults everywhere send a clear message to today's schoolchildren that our democracy is alive and well, and worth preserving for generations to come.

Communicating this idea across our nation not only will nourish the current wave of patriotism but also will help our youth understand why our republic is worth defending and saving. I can't think of a better civics lesson for them.

The Founding Fathers understood all too well that empowering Americans to rule themselves through a representative government could work only if citizens made decisions according to popular will or the values and interests of the population.

We know that such call to action does not work if people are unlearned.

More than 150 years ago, Horace Mann, frequently regarded as the "father of public education," said: "A republic cannot long remain ignorant and free, hence the necessity of universal popular education."

From the very inception of our nation, one of the pillars upon which our democracy is grounded is the notion that all citizens have not just a need but also a right to have access to knowledge and information; a right to be educated.

Our public school system has guaranteed that right for more than two centuries. It continues to be the cornerstone of a system that keeps our country free.

In this nation, public schools exist to educate everyone's children. No child is cast aside.

It frankly does not matter what a child's race, ethnicity or gender is; what learning abilities he or she may or may not possess; whether he or she is rich or poor; whether a child is incorrigible or as likable as can be.

This opportunity means everything in a democracy, because education is a citizen's ticket to success--the good life.

It also means that every American can contribute to keeping our democracy alive through active and informed participation as a citizen, voter or even representative of the people.

Today more than ever we must find ways to show Americans the critical connection between learning and liberty, thus helping all of us appreciate the power and role of public education.

Conveying that message might just be one of the greatest gifts we give to our nation at this time.

*

Jackie Price is an assistant superintendent in Capistrano Unified School District and a resident of San Juan Capistra- no.

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