Memories. I have so many good ones.
When I reminisce, my grandmother’s impact on my life is overwhelming. The extent of her formal education came to a conclusion in the seventh grade. She never had a driver’s license. I remember jellies being canned, blackberries being picked, and June bugs flying on a piece of thread confiscated from her sewing machine. Words cannot properly articulate all that she taught me in life.
She’s gone now and I miss her so much. She was so proud when I graduated from high school, but she was especially proud of the fact that I was the first in my family, from both sides, to attend college. How did I know? It wasn’t anything that she ever said to me. It was how she looked at me. She was proud!
I came from good, hardworking stock. My parents worked their fingers to the bone in the textile industry to provide for my family. I have always believed that if you worked hard and received a quality education the future was guaranteed by the American dream. I am thankful for the public education that paved the way for my American dream. I am thankful that my teachers never discounted me or my abilities because of which side of the tracks I lived on.
While I am the first in my family to graduate from college, I won’t be the last. I don’t know what I was more proud of on May 7, 1994 — the degree that I received from the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg or the pride that I saw on the faces of my mother, father and grandmother. I believe that moment was what they worked their entire lives to achieve. That degree changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Thank you, Mama, Daddy and Grandma. Your hard work, sacrifice and commitment provided me with opportunities that you never had. I am forever grateful.
I emphatically see public education as the great equalizer, the great provider of opportunities, and the pathway to a better tomorrow for all children. I believe so much in this statement that I have dedicated the past 26 years of my life to promoting the fundamental importance of receiving an education. I have seen thousands of lives changed through a high-quality public education.
Let’s face it. Not everyone gets the same kind of start in life. I recently had the life-changing opportunity to meet Gen. Colin Powell. I had breakfast with the man who served under Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. It will forever go down as one of the great honors of my life to have had this privilege.
He is the son of Jamaican immigrants, born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx. He went to public schools his entire life and served this country with pride, honor and distinction. My impression of this hero was that, even when he was in the presence of heads of state, he never forgot where he came from or the value of the education he received in public schools. He believes that through a good, quality education and hard work you could change the world. That is exactly what he did!
Public education is the great equalizer. Private school education is not available to everyone, especially those I mentioned earlier who start life from a position of disadvantage. Public education makes doors open. It provides choices. It broadens one’s perspectives to think beyond the here and now.
My grandmother’s and parents’ choices were limited. They encouraged me to stay in school so I would have more choices than they had. I admire the Greatest Generation and have the utmost respect for everyone who grew up during that time. Quite frankly, they built this great country. The value of a quality public education was born during that era and instilled into the very fiber of this great nation. I believe that one of the greatest ideas born during that time is that education opens doors and provides opportunities.
All children deserve a high-quality education. Why? It’s simple. Public education is the great equalizer. It is the provider of opportunities. Tomorrow will be better for it. What will our children say about our priorities as they relate to public education? Will they say we placed the same value on it that the Greatest Generation so clearly established?
I have two simple suggestions. One, pay teachers more, because other than our children, they are our most precious resource. Two, fully fund public education according to the laws that are currently on the books. ALL children deserve equality, opportunities for success and a better tomorrow.
Dr. Ronald Garner is the superintendent of Spartanburg School District 1.