Photo Friday: Keeping Children “at the Heart” of Education

Ernest and Kathryn Boyer speaking to two children while Boyer served as Chancellor of the State University of New York

Black and white photo of Ernest L. and Kay Boyer speaking to Scott and Kathleen Manly, the son and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Manly. – BCA

Ernie Boyer loved children — a fact that should be readily obvious to anyone seeing this week’s Photo Friday image.

The image speaks volumes about Boyer’s view of children and attitude toward their education. It shows Boyer engaged in a personal, face-to-face conversation with Scott Manly, a kindergarten student. Boyer is hunkered down, looking the child in the eyes and engaging the youngster on his level, not on a adult’s level. And this coming from a man who, at the time, was serving as the chancellor of one of the nation’s largest state university systems!

Boyer’s passion for children animated much of his life and career. As Senator Edward Kennedy wrote upon Boyer’s death in 1995:

More than anyone of his time, [Boyer] taught us that it is children, not just the schools, that should be the focus of our concern; that education is a community-wide effort which begins with the birth of a child; that supporting education is, more than any other challenge, not an expenditure but an investment; and that failure to act now will surely mean higher costs, wasted lives, promises unfulfilled. . . .

Ernie’s greatest gift to the nation was his unwavering commitment to education and to keeping all children at the heart of the nation’s agenda. And when Ernie said all children, he meant all children, so that none would be left out or left behind.

Today’s Photo Friday post celebrates Boyer’s “unwavering commitment” to keeping children “at the heart” of American education.

Ready to Learn

Two weeks ago President Obama delivered his State of the Union address to the country.  In his speech, he made a point to acknowledge the importance of early education and stated that every American child has the right to enroll in a quality preschool program.  President Obama gave three specific reasons as to why focusing on early education is good for the nation in the long run: it will ultimately boost graduation rates, reduce teen pregnancy, and reduce violent crime.  During his second term in office, the President explained that he and his staff will look to work with states to ensure that all children start their education career in a respected preschool program.

If you’re aware of the work of Ernest L. Boyer, this may sound familiar.  During his career as a lifelong advocate for education, Dr. Boyer had a lot to say about the early years and how critical they are for further development.  In a speech entitled “Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation,” he posed a simple question: “Children are our most precious resource.  In the end, they’re all we have.  And if we as a nation cannot prepare all children for learning and for life, then just what will bring America together?”  With the polarizing nature of American politics today, President Obama could have posed that same question to that nation two weeks ago.

Dr. Boyer’s speech was derived from a special report of the same name published in 1992 by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  The report outlined seven initiatives for school readiness.  The third priority had to do specifically with preschool education.  The Carnegie Foundation stated that every disadvantaged child is entitled to a good head start in a high quality preschool program.  In his speech, Dr. Boyer again challenged his audience, asking: “How is it that we [the United States] can spend $300 billion every year on national defense?  How is it that we can send space shuttles into orbit?  And never seem to have enough money for our children?”  The Carnegie Foundation’s report also wanted to recognize the importance of preschool teachers by raising their salaries, hopeful that doing so would also bring them respect.

President Obama perhaps said it best during his State of the Union address: “These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, housing – all these things will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs.  But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.  And that has to start at the earliest possible age.”  I think Dr. Boyer would agree.