President’s Corner

A Month for Standing Up

by Donald L. Kussmaul

November is a month of celebration. We celebrate Veterans Day, thanking those brave Americans who over the decades have fought to keep our land free. We celebrate Thanksgiving as did our forefathers who came to this country seeking freedom. And every four years, we celebrate our democracy by electing a president.

It’s this third celebration that I wish to address this month. Although it comes only every four years, a presidential Election Day is perhaps the most significant celebration of all.

Yet the significance is often lost amid the rhetoric and mudslinging that surrounds a presidential election. In fact, it’s sometimes too much for people to take. They don’t have the time or energy to wade through the speeches, polls and ongoing debates that rage throughout the media, much less evaluate what the candidates actually say and stand for. They lose interest in voting.

However, it is our right and responsibility to vote and to encourage others to do so.

Nov. 2, 2004, is an important day for all of us to “Stand Up” and make a difference in our country and, yes, our lives and the lives of our children.

In another life and on a different planet far, far in the past I taught civics and government to junior high students. I emphasized the significance of voting and communicating with our congressional leaders. When a student remarked that he didn’t see how his vote would make a difference, I did my best to explain what would happen if 10,000 or 100,000, or more individual voters felt the same as he. A few would make decisions for the majority of us, and we would not have a voice.

Well, it now looks like we are headed in that direction. In the last presidential election, fewer than 35 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls, and in the off-years since then, Election Day participation seldom reached 30 percent.

In looking at this issue from an educational position—that is, our failing to make adequate yearly progress on voter turnout—I turned to my wise confidante, my 81-year-old mother-in-law. She always renews my strength and belief in public education.

My mother-in-law has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean conflict, the radical 1960s, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, 9/11 and present-day terrorism. She lives on a fixed income of Social Security and has only a 10th grade education. She’s sharp as a tack, and this is what she told me.

Our country, she said, is based on all people having the right to be whomever they want to be no matter who they are, what they are, where they are from or what disability they have. We must provide everyone the opportunity to gain an education because an education permits all the opportunity to make decisions about a wide range of issues, from what they want to be, to where they want to live, to how they take control of their lives. Without this opportunity through education we would have a controlled society.

I ask you to do this: See that this freedom is upheld. When you go to the polls to vote, make sure you take at least two colleagues with you. Maybe we can put significance back into voting to “Stand Up” for what we believe as this is “The Heart of Our Democracy.”

Children today have the right to succeed, to fail, to make choices, to make decisions, to be creative, to be defiant and to be reverent. Don’t take that experience away from them. “That is not,” my mother-in-law says, “our democratic way.” She has given me renewed confidence to continue my total support of public education as we know it and believe it to be. I hope you feel the same way.

Donald Kussmaul is president of AASA.