There are some phrases that open a person's eyes, making them see things more clearly.
So it is with the words of Horace Mann (1796-1859), the educator and reformer who looked at public school education as "a ladder of opportunity" for millions.
The rungs of this ladder have been climbed by decades of immigrants and those on the lower economic level who felt that education would raise their children to the next level of prosperity.
What then is the reason for the latest report issued by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School? It notes that chronic absenteeism in city schools is escalating and many children from immigrant and poorer families are guility of missing multiple days.
The report claims that "absenteeism varies widely across the city. In Bayside, Queens, a middle-class neighborhood with many single-family homes, about five percent of students in kindergarten through fifth grade were chronically absent, compared with 30 percent of those in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, where there are several public housing projects.
"A closer look at Morrisania reveals a wide range of absentee rates—and strategies for dealing with them.
"At Public School 55, where 20 percent of the students were chronically absent, the principal, Luis Torres, said he worked to expand a school health clinic so children would not have to miss a full day to visit the doctor. He also hired an outreach counselor to work with immigrant parents to explain that every school day really mattered."
Among all the factors to spur the moving out of poverty or immigrating to this country, none was more powerful than the hope that the opportunity for a free education would be the vehicle to a better life.
When did this tradition end?
Horace Mann had it right. He thought that a common school would be the "great equalizer"—offering education to all, rich and poor alike. In his position as first Secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts, Mann proved a tireless campaigner for education. He established schools for teacher training, as well as free school district libraries. Additionally, he pushed for state aid for public education.
He firmly believed that economic wealth would increase through an educated public and that it was a necessary responsibility of the state to ensure that education was provided for every child.
Mann likely would spin in his grave if he knew today's absentee rate in the public school system. But his other prediction—that lack of education would only increase the need for more jails and prisons—seems to be coming true.
"As an apple is not in any proper sense an apple until it is ripe, so a human being is not in any proper sense a human being until he is educated," said Mann.
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