In a recent column, Tom Friedman of The New York Times wrote about visiting students from around the world, including China, India and Lebanon, to study "the network of 32 countries that have adopted the Teach for America model of recruiting highly motivated college graduates to work in their country's most underprivileged schools."
Indeed, America once was a model for the world in educational opportunities, and Teach for America is an excellent example of a social program used to increase educational opportunities for those in need. Today, it is doubtful that such a program would ever get off the ground.
The foundation for Teach for America is that education is the key to economic prosperity. That 32 other nations want to emulate Teach for America in their homeland speaks for both the program and for the importance of education abroad.
As stated by another New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, "If there's a key to this nation's sustained competitiveness, it is education."
Meanwhile, back in America, our public education system is under a two-pronged attack by political and religious conservatives. The attacks involve both funding and curriculum. As far as funding is concerned, you get what you pay for. Unlike the Department of Defense, to which Republicans in Congress are happy to give a blank check, when it comes to education, less funding seems to be better.
In Colorado, for example, a small tax hike dedicated to improve education across the state was voted down after Republicans spent millions fighting it. Education funding in Colorado has fallen to the bottom 10 states in the nation. Instead of spending their dollars supporting stronger schools for their children and future generations of children, Republicans in Colorado spent millions in television and radio ads fighting the small tax increase.
A recent column in The Financial Times by Robin Harding, Richard McGregor and Gabriel Muller states, "Public investment in the United States has hit its lowest level since demobilization after the Second World War because of Republican success in stymieing President Barack Obama's push for more spending on infrastructure, science and education."
Education is a threat to extremists around the world. It is difficult to teach children that the Earth is only 6,000 years old when children attend public school and are exposed to biology, geology and other sciences that demonstrate the evolution of our species over millions of years.
It is difficult to keep women suppressed around the world when they read about the rights and success women have in other parts of the world. Thus, it is better to control what they read and to keep them away from schools. If you look at the places around the world where women's rights are most suppressed, the lack of educational opportunity for women is frequently the common denominator.
Knowledge is power and, for some, a dangerous thing when it educates people about the fallacies of religious and political ideology. Indeed, facts are a stubborn problem when people have unlimited access to information. Thus, it is better to keep the kids away from an educational system that empowers them with information and knowledge.
Unfortunately, the economic vitality of our nation depends upon an educated populace. Look at the poorest states in our nation and they also have the worst funded public education systems. Look at the poorest nations around the world and you'll find a restricted and discriminatory education system. On the other hand, look at where education is strongest in the world and there you'll also find gender equality, the healthiest people and the strongest economies.
Extremists around the world are aware of the power of education and want to use the education system to push their ideology on future generations. Here at home, the fight against the Common Core standards, for example, has less to do with the concerns of a national standard for our schools and more to do with the fact that the standards don't match the ideology of its distractors.