My Class from John F Kennedy High School in Guam recently had our 30 year reunion in Guam. I was not able to attend but through the miracle of e-mail, the Internet, and long distance calling I was able to share in the event. Our class decided to fund the building of cabinets to house historical mementos of the school.
Well, during the same time period, our alma mater was condemned. A new high school is slated to be built some time. If the only problem was a simply rebuilding a new school. On Guam, like many parts of the nation, public education has sunk to a new low. It is literally in crisis.
I have lived away from the island for years, but even when I lived there the beginnings of this issue was already starting. I was lucky that I still benefited from the tutelage of qualified teachers but the there were already rumblings of teacher strikes about wages and associated issues.
However, in my opinion, the major factors that have stifled the cause of education on Guam have been:
- The use of Education as a political pawn. Traditionally, as a government department, Education has always had the biggest budget and the largest employee staff. This means money and votes. It also has opened up the system to corruption and the misuse of funds. As long as this relationship to political interests remains strong, education will continue to be subjected to the inefficiencies that redirect both focus and funds away from its central purpose to provide the optimum education at the most efficient costs to the youth of Guam.
- Also, voters on Guam have to seriously think who they have placed the decision making mantle on when it comes to funding and deciding direction of education. The Governorship and Legislature have been mostly been filled with individuals of family dynasties of several generations. These people’s children attend private schools for the most part. They have no vested interest in the public school system. Voters need to bring leaders to the table who represent their interests.
- The Federal Government needs to revisit the way it participates in its funding of education of its territories like Guam. It can’t run blanket punitive fiscal policies without consideration to the local impact. The withdrawal of the military population from the educational system was a wrong move strategically. Isolationism fosters elitism and also migrates needed funding unequally. We all operate under the same federal umbrella where educational opportunity should be available to all. The Feds, Guam and the Military need to find a way to come together under one system to benefit mutually.
- Finally, I benefited greatly from parents who valued education. It was a mantra in our home. I was asked about homework every day. My mother attended PTA’s, teacher’s conferences, and board meetings. The expectation was set that I had to do well in school. Reading was encouraged in the home. We had discussions about what we were learning at school. Parents need to create the atmosphere that Education is important in the home. No what matter our economic circumstances, our marital status, our educational status, or ethnic origin is we can imbue in our children the desire to value school and learning by making it a part of our home life and culture.
- In Guam, some people have talked about the brain drain. This means when youth leave the island and get college degrees and never return to Guam. Some of this is driven by economic reasons. However, I believe that if our young people felt that the community of Guam truly invested in them through providing an excellent educational experience, many will return home. Because that type of investment creates a feeling of purpose and mission. It is contagious. It truly brings returns many times over and over again to the investors. It is better than stocks. It is a sure thing!
The question now is, Can communities like Guam and many across the nation catch the vision and Make the Change?