As we have watched the debate across Arizona on how to improve funding for students struggling to learn English, we have become troubled by negative attitudes directed at the children who will benefit or suffer by the eventual outcome.
Some political activists and Tribune readers have suggested these students don’t deserve extra assistance because many are from families of illegal immigrants.
This posture conflicts with the fundamental belief of the Founding Fathers supported by more than 300 years of history — quality education for all children within our shores has been a precursor to our freedom and our prosperity as a nation. While the state awaits a federal court hearing on April 3 to consider the latest legislative plan on this issue, we decided to re-acquaint ourselves with what first leaders of the United States had to say about education.
“The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.”
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1749
Education inspires children to sound intellect, proper character and high ideals. The best methods of providing that education has evolved over the centuries, but the fundamental responsibity for our society has never changed.
“It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”
JOHN ADAMS, 1756
Long before the American Revolution, the colonists understood all children should receive a formal, effective education or they likely would be lost to poverty or crime as adults, adding to the burdens of everyone.
“Our schools of learning, by producing one general and uniform system of education, will render the mass of the people more homogeneous and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.”
DR. BENJAMIN RUSH, FATHER OF THE AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, 1786
Schools have always been a critical vehicle for assimilating immigrant children into American society. Failure to reach them now will keep them from embracing our values and our history.
“Whenever a youth is ascertained to possess talents meriting an education which his parents cannot afford, he should be carried forward at the public expense.”
JAMES MADISON, 1822
We can improve education today by opening the door wide to competition, so parents can choose traditional, charter, private or home classrooms with support from taxpayers. But we can never shirk from the expectation that every child will have that opportunity, regardless of their families’ income or background.
“Promote then as an object of primary importance, Institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1796
Most of the children affected by this debate were born here as U.S. citizens and will remain here regardless of how we might treat their parents or future immigrant families. Without a proper education, we will raise new generations unable to take part in our democratic republic. Such participation is their right, and necessary for our government to act on behalf of all the people.
“But of all the views of this law (universal education) none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty.”
THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1787
We endorse an ongoing vigorous debate over the appropriate level of funding and school-choice alternatives to truly educate English language learners. But we also embrace the wisdom of our forefathers that these children, regardless of where their families come from, never should be neglected.
“To cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind, by multiplying the objects of enterprise, is not among the least considerable of the expedients, by which the wealth of a nation may be promoted.”
TREASURY SECRETARY ALEXANDER HAMILTON, 1791
Immigrants make up an estimated 11 percent of the Arizona workforce, while one of every two jobs created in the U.S. in the past decade went to foreign workers, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By all the accounts, that trend will continue in the next 50 years as native birth rates continue to decline.