I recently returned from a three-day, two-night trip to Washington, D.C. where I led a group of eighth and ninth graders from my school. It was actually a five-day trip because it was 22 hours traveling each way by motor coach. I chose a bus for our group to make the trip more affordable for students so that more of them would be able to attend. I was willing to endure two overnights on a bus with a large group of adolescents because I think the trip is that important.
First of all, the primary purpose of our public schools is to prepare a literate citizenry for our democratic process. Thomas Jefferson intended public education to be the bulwark of our democracy. He understood that ignorance is the greatest threat to the perpetuation of our form of government. With rising apathy among our youngest voters, this is growing in importance.
Next, we need our youth to understand our government. The United States has the most complex and sophisticated, yet successful form of government in the world. If our way of life is to endure, our citizens must be educated in how our government works and how they can affect change.
Finally, our republic requires advanced citizenship. It requires the rank and file of our population to step up and take on leadership roles. Obviously we need to train our next generation of state and federal leaders, but our country desperately needs citizens to come forward to lead locally. We need city council members, county commissioners, and school board members. We also need people willing to volunteer for the zoning commission, the park commission, the public library board, and many other leadership positions. At a time when our political leaders seem to be facing increasing criticism and pressure, I perceive people are becoming more reluctant to come forth. We need our next generation to start preparing now for the roles they must assume within our society.
With all the national discourse about student achievement and standardized test scores, let's make sure we do not neglect our most important function as public educators. And this performance can only be measured a generation from now, after these students are voting and leading in our republic. We need to prepare tomorrow's leaders today.