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On Memorial Day: Understanding the vital role of education in our democracy

Memorial Day and schools

It’s Memorial Day weekend—the unofficial start to summer and a time for fun, food, and family.

But as we gather with loved ones this weekend, let’s not forget the real reason for Memorial Day—to honor those military service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.

Our nation’s history is filled with tremendous stories of brave men and women who would stop at nothing to preserve our democracy.

As we reflect on their sacrifice, let’s also remember that brave soldiers and seamen and pilots aren’t the only ones responsible for defending our way of life. A vibrant democracy requires not only sacrifice, but also hard work and understanding. That work starts by ensuring every citizen has the skills and the knowledge to understand the mistakes of history and look for the solutions of the future.

Eighty years ago, in fall, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a message to American teachers and school staff to commemorate “American Education Week.”

Though it would be another three years before the United States would officially enter World War II, Roosevelt’s words foreshadowed the oncoming clash of nations and the critical role of America’s schools in fueling democracy.

As we remember those we lost during World War II and other wartime conflicts this weekend, Roosevelt’s words on the vital nature of education ring true as ever:

“The conflict is still sharpening throughout the world between two political systems. The one system represents government by freedom of choice exercised by the individual citizens. In the other, and opposing system, individual freedom and initiative are all made subordinate to the totalitarian state. In this conflict the part which education plays in each ideology is crucial.

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest. To prepare each citizen to choose wisely and to enable him to choose freely are paramount functions of the schools in a democracy.

So I think it is of happy significance that one of the topics selected for emphasis in this year’s observance of Education Week is: “Holding fast to our ideals of freedom.” Upon the maintenance of those ideals depends all of our happiness.”

Have a happy and healthy Memorial Day.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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