“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” – Horace Mann
I recently ran across the story of Mary Mcleod Bethune and was in awe of her story and yet ashamed and embarrassed by how flippantly my state views its role in education. Mary’s story first.
Mary Jane Mcleod was born in 1875 to a mother and father that were both slaves. The family lived in a small rural town in South Carolina. She was the 15th out of 17 children. Her childhood home is pictured below.
Mary’s mother worked for her former master, and often brought Mary along with her. On one of these visits to her former master’s home, Mary picked up a book and started to flip through it only to have it snatched out of her hand by the little girl that lived in the house. The little girl snarked that Mary had no business with that book because she couldn’t even read. Much later in Mary’s life, she credits that moment with the realization that the only difference between white and colored people was the ability to read and write. That moment would direct the rest of her life.
From that time on, Mary would not only learn to read and write, but she would make it her life’s mission to teach other colored girls to read and write. Mary went on to marry Albertus Bethune in 1898 and then to teach in Sumter, Augusta, and eventually founding her own school for colored girls in Daytona, FL. Mary and her students are in the picture to the left. That school would eventually evolve in Bethune – Cookman University. Mary would also serve numerous roles during the administrations of President Coolidge and President Roosevelt.
Imagine that – a poor, colored girl born in rural South Carolina to former slaves advising white men who held the most powerful position in the world all because she understood the power of an education. Simply Miraculous!
It’s been studied and proven time and time again – the only real way to break the cycle of generational poverty is through education, and yet, my home state of South Carolina has been entangled in the Abbeville County School District vs. State of South Carolina since 1993. Yes, 1993! The S.C Supreme Court finally ruled in 2014 that the State had failed to provide a “minimally adequate education” for the poorest, most rural counties.
Two huge issues. First – our educational aspirations… We have, as a state, decided to set our expectations to “minimally adequate”, not world-class, not superior, not visionary, not exceptional, and not even adequate. Our goal is minimally adequate… The second big issue is that we have failed to even reach that bar in our rural schools. Mary Mcleod Bethune was a transformative force of nature that was inspired early in life to become great--Imagine how many “Mary”s have fallen through the cracks while we aspire to be minimally adequate…
Clearly, there is much much more to this story. Please take some time to read more about Mary and the issues facing our education system in this state. There are several links below.
We have an obligation to our children to reach for greatness, but do we have the desire, fortitude and the political will to actually solve this problem?