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April 25, 2011
Originally published in The Morning Call
"The Foundation of Every State is the Education of Its Youth." This is the quotation etched into the glorious colors of a stained-glass window in Peter Hall on the Hurd Campus of Moravian College. I read it every time I attend a concert, lecture or reception in this beautiful old hall.
Given the proposals coming from Gov. Corbett to cut in half investment, spending and appropriations in education in Pennsylvania, I wonder if he or those who support him have ever considered this quotation or the truth that lies behind it.
Why is that state support of education, at all levels, both public and private so important to the vitality and well-being of the commonwealth? Why is it foundational?
Education raises up and trains an educated workforce which drives the commercial engines of the commonwealth's business enterprises. Without an educated workforce, neither Pennsylvania nor the nation will remain competitive in today's global economy. China is making a vast investment in the education of its youth. The nations of the European Union continue to make investments in education at all levels for their citizens. We need an educated workforce to be fully engaged in the growing areas of technology and health care. Why would we want to cut investment by up to half for public and higher education just at a time when we need an educated workforce the most?
Education equips men and women for responsible citizenship. Thomas Jefferson knew that if democracy was to flourish, citizens must each and all receive a basic education. And so he founded the University of Virginia. He invested in the future of the republic by investing in education. The issues we face as citizens are complex and require the capacity to analyze information, form responsible opinions, communicate our positions with our fellow citizens in a cogent and respectful way, and act upon our understanding by voting and by becoming engaged in the great experiment in democracy which is our nation's great calling. Cutting support of education at a time when we in the commonwealth and the nation need an informed and educated citizenry is a short-term, budget-balancing tactic but not an investment in the future of democracy.
Education, especially in its more advanced forms, produces knowledge, the kind of knowledge we need to battle diseases like cancer or the kind of knowledge that advances technology. Pennsylvania is blessed with a rich and complex variety of institutions of higher education where students and faculty are engaged daily in the kind of research that will provide cures for many diseases. Within the Lehigh Valley, we have the kind of network of educational institutions and business enterprises that can educate and train our young people from preschool, through K-12 classes, through community colleges, through liberal arts baccalaureate colleges, through a nationally ranked research university. Is this the time in our commonwealth's history to cut support of education by up to half and thereby cripple the discovery of the kind of knowledge that will make life for all of us better?
Education cultivates learning and culture among us. Education makes us more interesting people and makes our community more civilized. What would the quality of life be like in the Lehigh Valley without the Liberty High School marching band, Lehigh University's Zoellner Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College's theater program, DeSales University's Shakespeare Festival, or Moravian College's Christmas Vespers? And what will we be like, as individuals and as members of larger neighborhoods and communities, if the education programs in the arts and music and literature and the appreciation of other cultures are diminished or cut entirely? We might have a balanced budget, but I fear we will become a dull and potentially more violent group of men and women.
"The Foundation of Every State is the Education of its Youth." The friends and family of Mary Wilson Selfridge knew this in 1918 and dedicated that glorious stained-glass window in her honor that still shines brilliantly today. I believe that Gov. Corbett's proposed budget cuts are a direct threat to this understanding of education and our commonwealth's foundation for the future. Cutting support for education by up to half will not, however, develop an educated workforce for the new economy; it will not nurture informed and responsible citizens; it will not help to produce the knowledge base needed for a future characterized by public well-being; and it will not cultivate a more enjoyable and civilized sense of community among us.
Christopher M. Thomforde is president of Moravian College.