Every day America's public schools touch the lives of more than one-half of the nation's population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a teaching force of approximately 2.5 million men and women has daily contact with 68.5 million young people, who are the future of our nation.
Colleges and universities that prepare teachers and school administrators must take their responsibility seriously. At a time when our country has a critical need for young men and women who can make educated, values-based decisions and are committed to lifelong learning, we are obligated to prepare professional educators who can be role models for all students in these critical objectives. Our teachers must create learning environments in which the application of knowledge equals test scores in importance.
BGSU: As president of Bowling Green State University, I am keenly aware of the national mandate to improve the quality of public education and, in the words of the National Education Association, "to make public schools great for every child." This goal is both laudable and attainable.
We will accomplish it in a number of ways. As the population of our state and nation diversifies, we are obligated to identify and attract students who are racially, culturally and linguistically diverse to professions in education. In fact, it is estimated that by the year 2020, 46 percent of the students in public schools will be minorities and 20.1 percent of all children will live in poverty, while less than 25 percent of American's current teaching force is a racial or ethnic minority. The discontinuity between the cultures of poor and ethnic minority students and the culture of our current classrooms is profoundly reflected in high rates of academic underachievement and failure for students who have been labeled both alienated and invisible.
Success in our educational endeavors mandates that we prepare multicultural educators who can identify with and relate to these traditionally marginalized students, and then provide the support essential to ensure their academic and personal success.
Our teacher preparation programs must focus as much on guiding educators to identify students' varied learning styles as they focus on their own styles of pedagogy. At the same time, it is imperative that, as we prepare our teachers with mastery in their content areas, we also prepare them to be able to create in their classrooms an environment in which ALL students are capable of succeeding and motivated to learn. A motivated student will discover multiple ways to learn.
Higher education: At the college and university level, we must ensure that our future teachers and administrators graduate as masters of their professions and are proficient at thinking critically about the values that underlie important social, political, scientific and professional issues. We must ensure that our diverse corps of education professionals has the tools in hand to develop in all children a sense of self-esteem, combined with essential skills in quantitative reasoning, written and oral communication, and critical thinking/problem solving.
Just as we at Bowling Green State University are purposeful in communicating our expectations and shaping our students' experience from the day they enter the university, our professional educators must be purposeful in setting high standards for performance in our public schools and providing positive learning experiences for all children from the first day they encounter formalized education.
Shaping the future: It is our teachers who will truly shape the course of education in the foreseeable future, and it is our colleges and universities that will shape those teachers and other educators in whose hands lies the future of our nation.
What better reason to celebrate National Education Week than to renew our commitment to education for ALL people at ALL levels? This week, 2.5 million teachers will touch more than half the nation's population in public school classrooms across the country. The quality of this experience will shape the ethical and professional direction of our nation. Therein lies our future.
XDr. Sidney A. Ribeau is president of Bowling Green State University, which graduates nearly 700 new teachers annually. National Education Week concludes today.