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Education Key to Realizing a 50-Year-Old Dream

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Following is a post from Guest Blogger Debbie Wesslund, school board member of the Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest school district in Kentucky.

I am amazed at the people who see the hope in what can seem to be world of intractable problems.

The remembrances of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington - and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. - reminded me that this gift of hope is key to achieving dreams.

On that anniversary, August 28, 2013, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., speakers referred over and over to education as the pathway to fulfilling those hopes and dreams.

We should heed this reminder and never let public education fall off the civic agenda of our communities, our states or the nation.

Those of us in education know the challenges: raising standards, students in poverty, government funding, negativity of some leaders and citizens.

Referring to polarized politics and economic inequalities, President Barack Obama said, "But the good news is, just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice. We can continue down our current path in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations, where politics is a zero-sum game, where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie. That's one path. Or we can have the courage to change....With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit and prepares them for the world that awaits them."

Former President Jimmy Carter recalled his experience coming home after military service in the 1940s, and serving on a local school board. He talked about the glaring inequalities between schools for white children and those for African-American students. "While we have come a long way," he said, "there's a tremendous agenda ahead of us."

Calling on people to stay the course toward greater opportunity, former President Bill Clinton commented, "We cannot be disheartened by the forces of resistance to building a modern economy of good jobs and rising incomes or to rebuilding our education system to give our children a common core of knowledge necessary to ensure success or to give Americans of all ages access to affordable college and training programs....

"It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back. And the great irony of the current moment is that the future has never brimmed with more possibilities. It has never burned brighter in what we could become if we push open those stubborn gates and if we do it together."

Stand together for the right of every child to get an education...

We've come a long way, but here's a tremendous agenda ahead of us...

The future has never brimmed with more possibilities...

These hopeful statements depend on the actions of educators and the communities that support them.

As demonstrated over the years of the civil rights struggle, often the biggest leaps were made by seemingly small steps. Sitting at a lunch counter, marching peacefully - these actions sound small. But we know the impact of those actions.

What children do in school can seem small, but every learning success leads to achieving big dreams.

Education is truly the path to opportunity and understanding.

Skeptical? Ok, listen to Malala Yousafzai.

She is the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban when she advocated for girls' education. She is healing well, and attended the opening of a library in England where she is living with her family and attending school. She said, "Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism."

I watched the video of her remarks on the TV news, and she seemed so happy. "I have challenged myself that I will read thousands of books, and I will empower myself with knowledge...I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through educating not only our minds, but our hearts and our souls," commented Malala.

She was shot in the head. And, she still has hope. I don't know that I would feel so hopeful.

Read it again: The only way we can create global peace is through educating not only our minds, but our hearts and our souls.

That statement bears repeating.

Our actions should support children's learning today, so they can be the hopeful ones tomorrow, just like Malala Yousafzai.

The truly hopeful know there is work to realize dreams. Let's look ahead to the next 50 years so that those who mark that day can look back and say we were true to the dream and made a difference, as well.

And, as Malala said, "Let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world."

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