Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 13, 2003

Public schools, saving grace of the republic

“Public education … by its very nature provides wide contacts with children of other backgrounds and cultures, teaching respect for differences. It is a function that has served our democracy well.”Florence Trimble in a letter to the editor of The Dispatch

The end of this school year – like the beginning – is leaving me feeling wistful and also keenly aware, in these budget-strained times, of the importance of public school teachers.

I’m wistful because this morning was the last that my children will walk out the door together headed to the same school. This fall, Andrew will move to Martin Murphy Middle School for seventh grade; Katie will remain at Barrett Elementary School and enter third grade. The closing of this common chapter in their childhoods is bittersweet.

Andrew and Katie both had fabulous teachers this year – Andrew’s teacher was a first-year teacher, and Katie’s a second-year teacher. Both fully credentialed, they nevertheless personally felt the shadow of the state budget crisis when they received layoff notices – along with 109 other Morgan Hill Unified School District teachers – in March. Due to an early retirement package that induced enough more expensive, long-term teachers to retire, they’ll both be back at Barrett next year.

Although the retirement of experienced teachers is a double-edged sword, keeping these two teachers, in particular, is a good thing for the school district. My children’s energetic, innovative teachers both worked hard on behalf of their students and will continue to positively impact them for a long time – perhaps a lifetime. If my children’s teachers this school year are representative of those entering the profession in California’s public schools, the future is bright for the Golden State’s children.

But, as the state’s budget crisis painfully demonstrates, times are tough in education. As Californians wait – and wait – for politicians in Sacramento to reach a compromise and approve a budget, it seems there will be no way to avoid deep cuts to education.

I know saying so means some readers will put me in a bleeding-heart liberal box and write me off, but here it goes: the more we cut education now, the more we’ll pay later in social programs, police, courts and prisons.

We ask our public schools to educate a widely diverse student population on a shoestring budget. We demand that they to take an assortment of children who have only their ZIP codes in common – kids from varying ethnic backgrounds, from divergent socioeconomic levels, with abilities that run the gamut from special education to genius, some with parents who can’t be bothered to look at homework and others who make school volunteerism a full-time job – and produce well-educated adolescents, all of whom can pass a state high school exit exam.

To paraphrase Florence Trimble, the existence of public schools is a good thing for our democracy.

Although California is facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, it’s imperative that Sacramento’s politicians minimize cuts to public education. It’s incumbent on local school district trustees to keep those cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. Cut whatever bureaucracy you want, but keep our children’s teachers in their classrooms.

Education ought to top society’s priority list. If we don’t teach our children well, they’ll lose out in the global economy’s labor market to workers educated in states and countries with better schools.

But more than jobs are at stake. Improving public education is a patriotic act. There’s no better way to perpetuate a strong, safe, prosperous America than by providing her children with the education needed to keep her that way. We ensure the continuance of democracy and freedom by teaching children the value of equality, voting, liberty – and how to think.

Our elected representatives, whether they work in school district boardrooms, the statehouse or the Oval Office, must understand that investments in our public schools will pay dividends for generations – and spend our tax dollars accordingly.

19th-century poet James Russell Lowell had 20/20 hindsight and foresight when he said, “It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically settled.”

Want to do something patriotic? Support your public schools.



  1. […] teaching respect for differences. It is a function that has served our democracy well.”) in one of my columns several months later and it still reminds me of the importance of public education to the survival of our democracy. I […]

  2. […] June 2003, concerned about proposed budget cuts for public schools, I wrote a column that included these lines: “There’s no better way to perpetuate a strong, safe, prosperous […]

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