Education and the American Dream
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What does the "American dream" mean to you? As a part of Re: Dream, from February 26-April 22, WFYI is taking part in a national conversation about opportunity and obstacles in the 21st century. During this time, we will be sharing local stories about what the American dream means to those in our community. Learn more, hear from others, find local events, and share your American dream online and on social media using #MyReDream.
Nearly fifty years ago when I was an adolescent, I heard my grandmother speaking with my older female relatives about the importance of public education. Her voice was strong in speaking to her reasons—this was how the poor would find their way “out of poverty”, this was how youth could make their “dreams come true”, this was how a person could afford the “necessities of life”. Her words stayed with me as my 35-year education career spanned the spectrum of six public school districts. I truly believe public education has had a tremendous impact on our country, our shared culture and our citizens. We have the responsibility to educate our youth to higher levels every year and historical data will prove that we have done that job well. The challenge to continue our work remains.
I believe we have to invest in how we make the American dream successful:
Our youth need someone who believes in them and their dreams, someone who tells them they have the potential to be successful and who can provide them with examples of others who have achieved a piece of the dream.
Our youth need to be able to see their way out of their present circumstances—what does the world look like on the other side of the city, the other side of the railroad, the other side of the country? Not a celebrity view, but a real view that extends to them, their friends, their classmates.
Our youth require and deserve an avenue to help them maneuver the maze that awaits them after high school graduation.
How do we continue to teach our youth that the American Dream is real, that it can be identified and attained by each one of us? In spite of the high level of technology available to many of our youth, many do not have an idea about what the American dream may mean for them, or for their family.
We see posts on social media that show schools, teachers, and students, who are serving as positive role models—teachers who tell their students every day that they are worthy, capable, and deserving of achievement and the dreams that are associated with those achievements. Schools and communities that value their young people, and give their youthful citizens a belief in themselves and their dreams.
The American dream is a dream built on community. Our sense of community is essential in supporting the American Dream. When my grandmother spoke of the value of public education, the connection between home and school was very evident. Today, that connection is less clear, and sometimes even distorted by the level of rhetoric aimed at schools, educators, families, and other members of the community.
We have a great opportunity to give our youth the ability to envision a future. Many families provide that base. Many schools provide opportunities through classes, contests, and other activities. Many immigrants come to the United States in order to fulfill their dreams. They believe the United States is the land of opportunity. We need to instill that same sense of dream fulfillment in our own youth. Our challenge as a country is to ensure that we are providing those discussions, activities, and support. Unfortunately, this is the very place that communities often find challenges.
Maybe our generation has lost part of its belief in the American Dream, or we are jaded due to the inequities that we see in our country and in the world. The American Dream is not elusive, and not a fabrication. However, it is not available without focus, will, and determination. It is time to give our children the focus, will, determination, and the belief that they can attain their dreams. My grandmother believed the American dream was achievable in the mid-1960’s, and I still believe it is awaiting our youth today.
Candace Milhon-Baer began her public school career in 1975. Twelve years of teaching provided the platform for administrative experiences as an Elementary Principal, Assistant Superintendent, and Superintendent. Retired since 2010, she still considers education, particularly instructional practices, as one of her great interests.