Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Education Tour

Aug 12, 2009

When President Barack Obama shared a cold one with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley last month, the world was astonished and amazed by the show of unity, discourse and advancement taking place. But when former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and I will hit the road this fall, you better believe jaws are likely to fall right open.

Beginning in Philadelphia on September 29, Gingrich and I will join Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as we kick off our Five City Tour highlighting the dire need to reform our education system. Undoubtedly on opposite ends of the spectrum for the bulk of our political careers, Gingrich and I have found common ground in the urgency of saving our failing schools, educating our children and providing them with the just opportunity to once again lead the nation to a state of unparalleled power. The two of us have fought on nearly every issue, often times representing the far ends of our parties, but on education reform we have found a basis for shared concern: the future of today’s youth.

Last year, America’s Promise Alliance (whose founding chairman happens to be Colin Powell) released a startling report indicating that seventeen of the country’s 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates that were lower than 50%. The report went on to highlight the alarming national school dropout rate of 1.2 million students. Add to that the disparity in education across racial lines where Black and Latino students are three years behind their White counterparts by the fourth grade, the percentages and numbers are even more troubling, more frightening and more disgraceful.

This past spring, Gingrich and I met with President Obama, along with the Education Security, as we put partisan divisions aside and worked towards real solutions to this most urgent civil rights issue of our time. I am delighted that the President has allocated $4.35 billion into the Race to the Top Fund – the largest ever federal competitive investment in school reform. And I’m equally thrilled that Gingrich, Duncan and I will host school visits, stakeholder meetings and media briefings on our tour as we raise awareness, incite intelligent discourse and push for immediate action across the country. Following Philadelphia, we will visit Petersburg, VA on October 2, New Orleans on November 3, Baltimore on November 13 and then Los Angeles on a date to be determined.

We live in a nation where the foundation of liberty, pursuit of happiness and the American dream are afforded to all. But when only 9% of freshmen in our top colleges are from the poorest regions of the country, that dream quickly dissipates for many. Without a proper education, children do not only lag behind financially, but they easily fall victim to other perils in society – including crime and imprisonment. When six out of 10 Black male high school dropouts have spent time in jail by their mid-30s, it’s easy to see the correlation between education, poverty, opportunity and advancement. Our schools are failing, our children are failing and we as a country are failing to keep up with many others around the world when it comes to innovation, technology, jobs, the economy and more.

It was exactly fifty-five years ago when the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education integrated schools and attempted to level the playing field for all children. It is utterly embarrassing that between 1987-2007 states spent on average 21% more on higher education, but simultaneously spent a shocking 127% more on their corrections budgets (Chronicle of Higher Education). How can we preach education is the key when all many of these kids see is a lack of appropriate textbooks, inadequate teachers and overcrowded classrooms where some are even taught in their school’s bathroom?!

It’s time to collectively stand and take bold action to save our children and our own existence as the United States of America. At a time when those on the extreme right are outraged over health care and protesting in malicious ways, I would point to the unique sense of joint concern that Gingrich, Secretary Duncan and I have formed. We may disagree on a host of issues – many of which I have called Gingrich out on, and many he has publicly disagreed with me on – but when it comes to the President’s push to reform education, we are both vocal in our combined efforts to advance civil dialogue and effective change. This is not a time for partisan bickering, nor a time for divisive behavior, but rather an urgent moment to resurrect a dwindling education system. It’s not about right wing or left, liberal or conservative, Black or White; it’s about the pressing need to save your children and mine. Won’t you join us?