This I Believe

Dan - Springfield, Illinois
Entered on November 7, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in the power of education to transform lives. This belief has been shaped by the experiences of my own family over time, beginning with both of my grandfathers and continuing to present day. I know from talking to others that my family’s experiences are more illustrative than unique, which also says something affirmative about my belief.

My grandfathers were both first generation Americans, born to immigrants from England and Italy who came here for the chance at a better life. By and large, my great-grandparents found these opportunities through a combination of hard work and ambition. In turn, my grandfathers had the opportunity for formal education well beyond that realized by their parents, and both graduated from high school. Both men would have liked to go on to college (and had the talent and drive to do so), but they did not have that choice, having to go directly to work instead.

Through the same hard work and ambition, with the added benefit of the formal education they did receive, my grandfathers both became successful small businessmen. At the same time, they continued to believe in the importance of education and were well-read and informed individuals. Both men ensured that the barriers they had faced in pursuing further formal education did not stop their children from doing so. As a result, both of my parents went to college and in my dad’s case, law school and graduate school as well. As it would turn out, both of my parents became educators themselves. My dad has spent virtually his whole career in higher education and my mom was an elementary school teacher for many years. While she has retired from teaching, she continues to volunteer at a local school and has also tutored kids in reading. Most importantly, they have been a great example of education’s transformative powers to their own children.

Unlike my grandfathers, the chance for a college education and beyond was never a question for me or my sisters. If anything, I probably took it too much for granted early on in my undergraduate years, but that is another story. Through my own graduate training, I was able to combine my interests in finance, economics, and education and have had the opportunity to spend most of my career in and around higher education. Despite my fundamental beliefs in its value to American society, I am no Pollyanna and can see the periodic disconnects between our system of higher education and the needs of the nation at large. But, while there are certainly problems, I also believe there are far more positives than negatives in our system.

My wife teaches math to seventh and eighth graders at a local parochial school, but she was not always a teacher. Her undergraduate education was in accounting and she also has a CPA. She had often thought she would like to be a teacher, and when the opportunity presented itself ten years ago she quit her job and went back to school to get a master’s in teaching and a teaching certificate. She has taught at both public and parochial schools working with children from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I have often had parents of her students tell me what a great teacher she is and what an impact she has had on their children in learning math and other subjects. While I am never surprised, this always makes me proud of her work. If this is not evidence of the transformative power of education, I don’t know what is.

And now, one of my daughters says she might want to be a teacher. While she is only a sophomore in high school with many opportunities for changes in educational and career plans yet ahead of her, I believe that the fact she is considering this at all is a wonderful thing. I also believe that her great-grandfathers would think the same thing.