“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is perhaps one of the most well-known phrases in the English language. Although this phrase is something that most of us can recite without a thought, this same phrase is something that only some of us acknowledge has never come to fruition. The statement is a declaration of an ideal for our nation— something that we must work toward. These are words that we can speak, but without action will continue to be just that— words.
Our education system stands as proof that not all of our young people are afforded an equal or even equitable shot in life. As a child, the neighborhood or city that you were
born into is a major determinant in deciding the type of opportunity that you will have in life. For many of our nation’s youth, the American ideal that if you work hard enough then you can succeed is a mere fallacy . Teaching has shown me too much to say that this a statement is a truth or even half-truth for some. While I was working in York, PA I drove past a high-performing school which was afforded beautiful facilities on my way to a school that was situated in a district that was considered to be one of the poorest and lowest performing in the state. It is for this reason and many others, that I cannot look into the eyes of my students and tell them that all people in our nation are created equal. In the United States, justice and freedom are a still a right reserved for some— not all. When only those born and living in the right zip-code are afforded a school with outstanding opportunities, resources and teachers, we cannot truly say that every person in this country has the same shot at the American Dream.
As President Obama has said: “For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they are not self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.” The statement rings true in every part of our nation— including education. If we truly want to improve our country’s educational systems,
then policymakers must be intentional about how they reduce the systemic inequities that have been ingrained in our society. They must deal with the distribution of funding and the opportunity gap that is created as a result. Furthermore, teachers and administrators must approach the difficult conversations surrounding the topics of equity within our institutions. We must engage in conversations with students, staff and others on the topics of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other topics that create tension in schools on a daily basis. We cannot expect students to be successful when they do not see their culture or their values showing up or even welcome in the space. I could write in great length about each of these topics, but with this piece I hope to enlighten and remind. Each time I write, I fear that I will only be speaking to those who already know.
Today, I will be celebrating the independence of our nation. In my mind, I will continue to remember the lives of those who continue to be oppressed and silenced— I will continue to remember those who have not been afforded a fair shot. Once the fireworks have ended and the left-overs have been put away, I hope that each of us will reflect on the ideal state of equality in our nation and find a way to act on it. If we want our nation to move closer to the ideal of equality, we need to take action in making those truths that are self-evident a reality for more than just those who have been born into the right circumstances.