Standing Up for Our Children

Delaine Eastin - Davis, California
As heard on This I Believe Podcast, September 3, 2018
Delaine Eastin

As the former highest-ranking official in California's elementary and secondary public school system, Delaine Eastin believes that investing in children's education is not just the right thing to do, but also a patriotic necessity.

Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe the genius of America has been the belief that all are created equal and that the way to achieve the best possible life is with liberty, justice, and great education for all.

Emerging from the depression and the second world war, the Greatest Generation gave us the most extraordinary gifts of educational opportunity, despite the debts and hardships associated with their early lives. America became wealthy as a result. Why are we so stingy today with the education of the next generation when we have been so richly rewarded with better educations than our ill-schooled forebearers?

Indeed, in the grim first years of the Civil War, President Lincoln began the Land Grant Colleges and dreamed of greater educational opportunities for future generations.

In the difficult days of the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt did not say we cannot afford education because we are at war. Instead, he called for a GI Bill of Rights and doubled the number of students attending college.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, President Truman was stunned to find that record numbers of 19-year-old draftees were rejected because of malnourishment during their formative years, which happened to be during the Great Depression. The legislation that he proposed to fix this problem was the National School Lunch Act. The bill says the school lunch program is a matter of “national security.”

In the Cold War, American resources were stretched by a massive defense budget and a huge space race, but Republican President Eisenhower did not say, “oh, we cannot afford to improve education.” Instead he called for an ambitious program to encourage more students to attend college and to become scientists, engineers, and teachers. He called it the National Defense Education Act.

Politicians who cut education betray our ancestors and our posterity.

Great American patriots of all political parties believed, in the immortal words of John Adams, “Laws for the liberal education of youth are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose should be thought extravagant.”

I believe that investing in education, at all levels—from preschool to graduate school—should be as obvious as saving Yosemite or building the Golden Gate Bridge or going to the moon…

I believe Neil Postman was right when he said, “Children are a message we send to a time we will never see.”

Sadly, I believe that up to this minute, our generation has been a disappointment when it comes to education and being honest with our children. Every dollar we borrow for tax cuts is a debt they carry for decades. Every failure to invest in education is a formula for America’s decline. I believe real patriots must stand up for America’s children and for the education of those children.

From 1995 to 2003, Delaine Eastin served two terms as California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), a nonpartisan constitutional office. As the highest-ranking official in California's elementary and secondary public school system, she was the first woman in the state’s history to be elected State Superintendent. Eastin spearheaded major efforts to improve reading, writing, science, social science, arts, and mathematics instruction, and she initiated the campaign to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

Recorded by Mark Jones for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, California and produced for This I Believe by Dan Gediman