“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
Considering that there are many countries around the world that have done monumental work in the field of education and they have growth in their economies that correlate with the success, what can the US learn from some of these nations? Based on what the world has seen in the field of education in the last few decades, what would happen if the various states in the US provided an equity based non-discriminatory education to the poor children of the country?
Hatred and fear, racism and bigotry, are governed by ignorance. The prevailing idea is often that if more is given to Have-nots then the Haves will suffer. Polarizing debates around the redistribution of wealth quickly take center stage of discourse. Fears are stoked and more well-off Americans begin to express how their grandparents and great grandparents immigrated to the US with nothing and how minorities only need to work harder. Emphasis is placed on how great a country we all live in, in fact the greatest country on Earth. America is the land of opportunity and if people can’t make it here, the fault is all their own. America is post-racism and post-segregation, or is it? Are these distracting talking points merely ignorance missing the core of the concern that would benefit the nation as a whole? Are these talking points stoking fear and ignorance and hurting the nation while countries continue to outdo America educationally and make tremendous economic gains? What can America learn from the world?
There is debilitating poverty and illiteracy in the world. There are nations where the far majority of the people are uneducated. The US does not have the worse education system in the world, as a matter of fact the US provides a world-class education to its affluent and suburban communities. Nonetheless, the US does not have the best education system either and stands to learn a lot from the rest of the world, many countries who do not have the equity extremes found in the US.
Are the countries who outperform America simply Utopian societies? No. The leading nations in education in the world all share two facts in common, they discriminate less than America against its own citizens and they actively work to increase education equity. The US avoids the very notion and conversation around equity, dismissing the idea to ideological extremes instead of a socio-economic and national urgency. Time reports that Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Canada are the top ten leading education countries in the world in a comparison of 76 countries – the US ranks a mediocre 28 on this list. This is extremely mediocre on the world stage given the economic resources of the US. The Second Civil Rights Movement presented in Saving America From Decline: Tuition and Debt Free College for Poor Students that the nation can afford free college for all and K-12 funding equity. In discussing global education and the benefits of education equity, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) explained in Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools that:
“Indeed the highest performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine quality with equity.
Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background, are not obstacles to achieving educational potential (fairness) and that that all individuals reach at least a basic minimum level of skills (inclusion). In these education systems, the vast majority of students have the opportunity to attain high level skills, regardless of their own personal and socio-economic circumstances.”
If a nation suppresses and oppresses millions of its citizens, whether they are legal or illegal citizens, descendants of Africans forced in brutal bondage to endure slavery, women who are not allowed equal opportunity, and/or poor and working class people who are not allowed to receive an equal and equitable education, the result is a net loss in a bottomless reservoir of skills and talents that could benefit those communities, the nation, and in fact the world. Let’s consider some solid data.
An extremely impressive and informative study with ground-breaking implications was published in 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, covering data from 1967-2010 and looking at children born as far back as 1955; it is entitled The Effect of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement, and Adult Outcomes (Jackson, Johnson, & Persico). Singularly, this study is one the most critical and decisive works of the decade. And to the detriment of poor students and the nation as a whole, it has been virtually ignored by the Legislatures, politicians, and educators throughout the land. The study outlines direct correlations between the increase in per-pupil spending (funding equity) and several socio-economic factors (graduation, income, poverty reduction, and other areas). Consider the data:
“Event-study and instrumental variable models reveal that a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; we find no effects for children from non-poor families. The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families. We present several pieces of evidence to support a causal interpretation of the estimates.”
The implications of this study cannot be overestimated, especially when considering that the leading nations in education outperform the US by far and promote equity while doing so. The study is significant to increased graduation rates, drug and prison reduction, crime reduction overall, increased economic and business growth, reduced unemployment, an increase in creative talent, scientific outpouring, technological achievement, and so much more. Consider the nations leading the US in education and how those countries are doing better or often gaining on America in these areas. China’s economy is forecasted to topple the US from 1st place according to Forbes. The US has the world’s highest prison rates in the world which means unlimited talent is literally locked away due to a failed education system. Some extremely impoverished communities have Great Depression level unemployment. As their educations systems outpace the US, tremendous gains in technological innovations are pouring from other nations and the World Economic Forum places the US 5th in the top ten countries for these gains. Is the US like the spoiled kid on the playground with his arms folded, angry and stubborn, who wants to play the game his own way that keeps failing while the other kids are moving along, playing, and making progress?
For critics who argue that state and federal budgets cannot support funding equity, I ask should the Civil War, Reconstruction, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, or any other fights for human dignity have been stalled for budgetary reasons? Should apartheid in South Africa have been put on hold for budgetary reasons? Should stopping child kidnap and trafficking be halted due to national budgets? Should we ignore modern day slavery because countries don’t have the resources to address the horrors? While the answers are obvious, the fact is that the US has the economic resources to bring funding equity to education. US military expenditures overshadows the entire world and resources can be diverted to education. A corporate tax for education would be a great investment over the long term for the nation. Real estate and lottery should be reconsidered. Among other possible revenues, the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives) could be taxed much more for education along with casinos and gambling. Through these tax sources and others, education equity can come to the poor children of America and the return investment would be tremendous for the nation as a whole, in fact the world. During the 1960’s Civil Rights era, the world was inspired by the activists who reshaped the nation. Education as a civil and human right is a dire issue throughout the world. For the sake of the nation, hopefully a Second Civil Rights Movement will again inspire the world. At least an old man, whom others had counted out in life, looking out of his cell bars to seemingly nowhere in Robben Island agreed that education is needed to change to the world.
Mukasa Afrika Ma’at
He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Black Studies from CSU. He earned a Master of Science in Education Administration from GMU and a Master of Arts in Inner-City Studies Educational Leadership from NEIU. He is an historian, author, blogger, and poet. He has done critical essays on Black Leadership, politics, and culture along with extensive research and essays on Afrikan-Centered education. Mukasa Ma’at is a Black Belt martial arts specialist and instructor. He developed and founded Ma’at-Sumu, a full mixed-martial arts combat system. He is also an education administrator of an Afrikan-Centered charter school in Philadelphia and has supported Afrikan-Centered schools and CIBI his entire career.