With Liberty and Education for All

HOW DOES A NATION DEFINE ITSELF? What are its mores and values? And with what cultural codes does it inform its worldview, enabling it to decide which direction to take as a polity?

In the United States, not too many generations ago, questions such as these were easily decided, if they were asked at all. This was the acknowledged America: Eurocentric-Norman Rockwell-apple pie. These were the tenets of Americana, reinforced in the classroom. There are signs, however, that this is changing.

The New York City public school system is a prime example of the shift. Its student population includes 359,903 African Americans; 321,476 Hispanics; 186,512 whites; and 69,356 students from other ethnic groups. Whites comprise just 20 percent of the public school population.

The changing demographics of education will have a major effect on all aspects of public policy in the years ahead. Look at the faces of children now entering kindergarten and their primary school years: They are every color of the rainbow. These children speak with many accents, have different needs, and are ushering in an entirely new set of realities.

The social tremors caused by rapidly changing racial and ethnic demographics in the United States can most easily be tracked through the public school systems in our large cities. Blacks and Hispanics comprise the majority of students being educated in urban public schools in the East. Hispanics and Asians are, or soon will be, the majority of students attending public schools in California, where whites make up only 40 percent of the public school population. As more children enter the public school system and eventually leave to replace an aging, predominantly white adult workforce, education is not only critical to minority advancement, but to the stability of the country itself.

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