Education is vital to positive, societal change.
Education can lead to a new life; education provides a pathway to success; it provides hope and the tools to overcome disparate economic circumstances.
Conversely, inadequate education limits opportunity and relegates many to second-class citizenship. This not only harms those lost in the process, but the entire community.
It suffers from the loss of talents, skills and productivity. Moreover, second-class education can lead to dependencies, frustration and hopelessness.
The prerequisites necessary for a sustainable and positive educational system include a full understanding of the tools needed in a competitive, world economy. A conducive educational environment also requires respect for the dignity of each student and parent while developing the respect of the student and parent. Only such mutual respect will reinforce the positive development which otherwise will disintegrate after the school day.
We must start with listening. Communication is an art. It starts with empathetic listening. We need to give a voice to those who have not been heard and we need to listen.
Even if we believe we have the answer or hold the solution, current ownership of the problem may be in the hands of someone else.
The process requires building public trust and legitimacy. We must be willing to acknowledge flaws that may exist in our present practices and look to demonstrate fairness, our appreciation of the concerns of others, and the undeniability of our quest for equality of opportunity. In other words, we need to build trustworthiness through development of mutuality in the relationship between the educational system, the parent and student, the community and, yes, law enforcement.
The role of discipline is a critical element in trustworthiness. This makes how, when and to what extent law enforcement is involved a part of the discussion and resolution. The collaboration with law enforcement needs to be positive and coordinated with the entire community. The education of future generations is dependent upon community involvement, the community’s supplementation of services and reinforcement of positive character traits. The resources in the community bring strength and guidance to students beyond what we can expect to be imparted in our schools. A student should feel not only respected in school, but respected in the community. The expectation of respect carries with it the responsibility of respect of self, the community and of others — attributes learned by students at home, at church or while out in the community.
On Thursday each of us can be a vital part of this process. Racial Harmony has secured an outstanding panel of superintendents, teachers, college educators, students, a parent and a counselor. This panel will help the community in its appreciation of education, understanding its importance and its interrelationship with poverty. Please come and share any innovative ideas or practices you believe will help develop equality of educational opportunity and compassionate leaders. It will be held starting at 6:30 p.m. in “The Commons” at Belleville West High School. Complimentary food and beverages will be available. Donations for the Food Pantry are appreciated.
Robert E. Wells Jr. is an ambassador for Racial Harmony.