By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, and the child of farm workers can become the president of a nation.”
As promised, over the next few months I’ll be following the McCleary ruling and breaking down its significance and which benefits it will bring to the current K-12 education system for students, from my perspective.
What is McCleary? It’s what Malcolm X would call the New Passport or what Nelson Mandela might call the Great Engine of Personal Development. If we look at the K-12 system as the Leadership Academy that helps cultivate and guide students in the right direction in pursuit of becoming the next generation of leaders, it may be a little easier to understand.
Our Declaration of Independence says that every person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence is the great equalizer and, in this scenario, will act as the “The Boss.” So, The Boss says that every person who enters into this Leadership Academy will leave prepared, satisfied, confident, equipped, and ready to take on the challenge of becoming part of the next generation of leaders.
In fact, The Boss says it’s illegal to not fully invest in the Leadership Academy and prosperity of every student. In hindsight, students are not allowed to be robbed of a quality and enriching education. That’s both beautiful and cause of one of the biggest debates throughout the country. Are students really receiving the resources and guidance they need to prosper? In other words, are we teaching kids to drive but when it comes time for them to get behind the wheel, did we only really give them 2 ½ tires?
Unfortunately, not all students are leaving the Academy ready for the world and feeling confident to be great leaders, which makes The Boss sad. The appointees who have been entrusted with the funds to create and support the programs that help cultivate the leaders through the Academy, or making sure all kids leave the Academy with four tires and not 2 ½, now have to go back to the drawing board.
Here at the League of Education Voters, we are advocating for a stronger Leadership Academy, or K-12 system for students. Under McCleary, we would like to redefine what basic education is, and which resources are really needed for student success to cultivate the strongest, confident and most prosperous leadership for every student, regardless of his or her background.
It should no longer be about who has the greater means; it should be about having an equal playing field in pursuit of helping every student make the economy and the world a better place. McCleary can give every student their own individual and valid Education Passport – one that won’t just get them through high school, but to college and beyond. One that will take them to unimaginable and prosperous places.
When I applied for the Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS) back in 2013, it was nine essays, no word limit, full creative control to answer all questions – a little gift I felt was just for me to be able to showcase my skill and love for writing. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave me my passport to prosperity and unimaginable places, college being the first stop and then the opportunity to study in Spain, Paris, Ireland, and next to Poland in just a few months.
Currently, it is required that all students receive 1,000 hours of instruction annually. How these hours are split up throughout the years to create the greatest leaders is dependent upon well, what the teacher can do with the resources the appointees give. I found through my own personal experience that my teachers needed more support with what they wanted to do to help my classmates and I learn as much as possible in a way that works for us. Look at it like this, if students create the best art by using color instead of lead pencils, but with 21 students in a class and only enough money to buy colored pencils and paint for 15, do you see how that could be problematic and could potentially make The Boss unhappy? If a teacher has 21 students and needs 21 sets of paintbrushes and colored pencils because it is a pathway to help students understand the material to get them to the next stage of the leadership academy successfully, then that should not be up for debate.
I was a reluctant case. I was passing by through the K-12 system because I had to deal with what I was given. In hindsight, I had a few experiences being the student that “couldn’t paint” because there weren’t enough resources. However, I had a lot of outside practice thanks to my dad making my sisters and me the Jackson 5 of Education growing up. He made us work on our skills and passions for what felt like an additional 1,000 hours throughout the school year. I’m sure as a parent, he understood that there were many cracks in the K-12 system, but probably felt that there was no sense in fighting a system that was broken and probably wasn’t going to be repaired anytime soon.
Our summers were not typical summers. It was the Jackson 5 Academy of Learning, which I appreciate now but hated back then. This is why McCleary is such a big deal. It could be the start to fixing the system. I was constantly writing, reading, and writing some more to the point where I was confident enough to give birth to a dream and pursue it, because I had the perspective and knowledge that I could succeed. In fact, it became quite ridiculous how much I started writing over the years. In college, the only kind of partying I really did was in the UW’s Suzzallo Library with the Dewey Decimal System or in my Ballard studio with my laptop and Google docs.
When it came to applying to one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the country (Gates Millennium), I didn’t consider the odds that were against me. Instead, I felt confident enough in my ability to write because that’s all they were asking me and every other student in the country to do, just write. So I went to town because at this point, it wasn’t about any challenge or obstacle in front of me, but it came down to skill, experience and ability. I also knew my rights that Thomas Jefferson outlined for all individuals in the Declaration of Independence. So for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I applied to that scholarship.
I’ve always believed that someday I could be a great writer and reporter. If I wanted to be on the New York Times Best Seller list or even be skilled enough to work at CNN, it had to start with a confident and disciplined belief. That’s what my dad, Michael, taught me. As I grew older, I recognized that I couldn’t dream and hold on to doubt at the same time. One was a heavy load and the other always made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.
McCleary questions whether students have the confidence to pursue their wildest dreams. Do they feel capable? If not, how can that change? I see my mentors and colleagues at LEV really trying to figure that out.
When I received the Welcome to the GMS Family packet, I felt as if I could take on the world and nothing was out of my reach. Not only did it guarantee me a free undergraduate education but a free education through earning my doctorate. One of my best friends from Colorado is also a Gates scholar with a compelling story and an astounding amount of what I like to call Alice in Wonderland Confidence, as well. Her name is Michael and when I met her, I didn’t feel crazy that my dreams seemed to go far beyond the stars or like I was stuck in some kind of Wonderland.
On the phone one day, I asked her what she wanted to do as a career and what her dreams were. She told me that she wanted to work for NASA. I will never forget that moment. I was looking for the Caesar croutons in aisle 4 at QFC and I remember stopping in my tracks, unsure if I heard her correctly because it was such a confident response. Her dream job was to be an astronaut. This is a true story. People would always tell her that she had a better chance of becoming president of the U.S than becoming an astronaut for NASA. Nelson Mandela had a great point –education is the fuel that drives a student to believe in the possibility of the things they may see as impossible.
Does the current K-12 system allow students to believe in the possibility of a great future? I imagine McCleary as the hope and challenge to the impossible that students may feel. I imagine it giving students the same Alice in Wonderland confidence that Michael and I had in order to go after our dreams and challenge the status quo of our backgrounds. I imagine McCleary being the engine that fuels the confidence for many other students to dream of being great writers, reporters, and astronauts.
I believe that McCleary could give birth to a new system of belief for every student. When considering McCleary, I think a lot of people involved in the issue are asking, do we need more arts and leadership programs? Better use of testing and more conversations? I’ll be reaching out and sharing their perspective and experiences, as well. The debate over how the 1,000 hours of instruction in all grade levels will be supported and spent is heating up, so stay tuned – it’s interesting business that you won’t want to miss.