Seventy-Two Million Smiles

I’m a teacher. And teachers and professors and education support staff have a simple belief; a faith that education is a basic human and civil right. It’s tattooed on our DNA. It’s how we breathe in. It’s what we breathe out.

It’s why I am so proud to be a part of the Global Campaign for Education. It’s why thousands and thousands of teacher are teaching a special lesson this week. We are telling our students that something they often take for granted is a luxury beyond imagination to 72 million children in other countries.

72 million children do not have the opportunity – some of them do not have the right – to attend a public school.

For educators, it is only natural that everyone see a schoolhouse door as the opening to a better future.  But that door is closed to so many children – especially today when every community – every state – every nation is facing the challenges of a global economy in crisis.

I know some will say that times are tough, and that it would be better to wait for a better year to move forward on a global campaign with One Goal:  Education for All.

But I taught 4th grade. A child only has one year to be a 4th grader.  She only has one year to be ten.  And whether or not we open that school door to her this year might determine whether she ever succeeds next year or the next.  Or ever.  And whether or not she succeeds might determine whether her country will succeed next year or the next.  Or ever.

I was able to visit India years ago and see a remarkable ashram – a safe haven for children who had been rescued from labor camps.  Children who had never seen the inside of a school were learning to read even as they were learning to play.  These children had lived where they had been beaten for laughing.  Now they were reading.  They were playing soccer.  They were singing and dancing and smiling for us.  It was the most joyful place I have ever seen in my life.

That school meant they would have a chance to live and be healthy and happy.  It meant they would have a future where they could laugh.

I want to see that look of joy on 72 million children’s faces.  But the reason it doesn’t happen often boils down to one word:  Money.

Too many times we forget that money spent for education is an investment that brings returns.  The returns are seen in health and economic grown and democracy and in the ability of a generation to pursue happiness.

Those of us who understand the importance of education know the importance of cold, hard cash.  And that means we know the importance of building a grassroots movement like The Global Campaign for Education  so that we can reach every policy-maker in every corner of the globe.

That includes our corner of the world and a policymaker named Barack Obama who has pledged – with the full support of American educators – $2 billion for Global Education.

These are tough times for American educators.  But these are also proud times.  We’re proud to ask all the world to come together for all the world’s children.  The National Education Association is proud to serve on the Leadership Council of the U.S. Chapter of the Global Campaign for Education.

We’re proud of Congresswoman Nita Lowey for bringing the bill that will show America’s commitment to the world’s children.  We’re proud of Jessica Alba for taking a leadership role in this effort. We’re proud of the World Cup soccer players who have taken the time to show their support for 1Goal: Education for All.

Ya es hora.  Escuelas para todos. It’s time to open the doors of a school and see 72 million smiling boys and girls walking through them.

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