With the news of the death of Barbara Bush, there is a vacuum in leadership in showing the need for adult basic education. Of course this was not the only thing that Barbara Bush was about, but with our deeply divided politics, it is perhaps the only area that we all can agree.
So lets put down the politics at the moment, except for this area: helping adults to learn. This is an issue that sadly, there has been little leadership or even acknowledgement of an issue. Our media, our government, and our general culture tends to see a linear conveyor belt of learning. This is reinforced by our notion of “grade levels” (which are mostly an industrial era concept) which then goes to levels of college “degrees”; each appearing to be a neat orderly move from one level of learning to another.
But what happens when nearly 1 in 5 kids fall off the K-12 conveyor belt (at least in California)? And what happens when there are astronomically different skill levels within one person, such as when an immigrant earned a college degree in their country of origin, and then arrives in the U.S. speaking very little English. Where on the conveyor belt of “grade levels” would this person be?
Barbara Bush has been one of the only leaders to consistently champion the needs of adults who are missing some basic education, especially for those who struggle to read and write. And she was the only one who supported the equal rights of adults to have charter schools that can help them. And I do believe this is an equal rights issue. In California, as well as several other states, K-12 education is a state constitution legal right. But, it is a right that is consistently denied to adults. Do you know of any other right that someone loses at age 18?
Yet, in California, consistently there is an attack on funding basic and high school education for adults. When California had its financial crisis, it was this basic type of adult education that lost lots of funding, and even before then, there were caps placed on adult education funding which prevented it from serving all those adults who needed knowledge and/or skills that would traditionally be in K-12 education. And when adult-serving charter schools were created in California, they have been called “a loophole” and are looked at with suspicion, when instead they should be looked at as a way to provide equal protection under the law for adults to receive their constitutional right to education.
And putting aside the notion of human rights, the fact that adult basic education reduces crime, improves our economy, increases societal cohesion, and helps adults make smarter decisions when they vote, on its own, is more than enough value that our nation gets compared to the cost. As one bumper sticker says “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” This is even more true for adults, who vote and raise our next generation.
So, with the passing of Barbara Bush, who will take up the mantel of ensuring that there is education for all, including adults?