10 Sep Latinos, Education, and Freedom
This blog post was written by Richard Thomas, Chief Academic Officer of Latinos In Action. All opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect any official positions or policy of Latinos In Action.
So what does the “achievement gap” really mean, and what difference does it make that Latinos are often the lowest performing ethnic group in areas like graduation rates, grades, and proficiency scores?
Of course, there are many important reasons to care about our youth receiving a quality education. It can provide valuable social development, exploration of talents and skills, and education level is often tied to the amount of money one can expect to make throughout life. While these are all important reasons for education, it may have a deeper purpose- one that is ultimately tied to freedom. Thomas Jefferson wrote:
Jefferson understood that our system of government relies on citizens voting for laws and representatives and thus critically relies on an educated and informed people. In other words, education literally preserves our free way of life.
The opposite is true for governments who have wanted to exercise oppression or extreme control over its people; they limited access to ideas and information. One of the first laws Nazi Germany enacted against Jews, years before concentration camps, was to burn Jewish books.
The Spanish Explorers who colonized the New World destroyed Mayan libraries that were filled with centuries of history and science. So diligent were the Spanish at this work, that only three Mayan books exist today.
In our own history, laws in America prohibited slaves from learning how to read or write, often accompanied with harsh punishments. In Alabama for example, a freed slave who was caught helping another slave read or write was sentenced to 39 lashes and forced to leave the state within 30 days. 40 lashes were considered the death penalty. Even today, countries that exhibit enormous control of its people do so in part by controlling information.
On the other side, when books and learning were finally available to the common people, they played a significant role in initiating the Enlightenment and moving away from the Dark Ages. In this sense, education is liberation and independence because it allows people to think for themselves.
For those of us dedicated to supporting students in education, this means that our work creates freedom for students in a smaller context by giving them skills and knowledge to have a career, income, and enjoy a fulfilling life. In a larger context, our work means protecting groups from being marginalized and silenced in our society. How important it is then to make sure all students receive a quality education?
In my view, their freedom depends on it.