A description from the classic story set in the French Revolution has come to epitomize the ironic disjunction between the best intentions and the results which those intentions lead to.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…
We see examples of that irony everywhere we look, not the least of which are our public education and immigration systems.
The public education and immigration systems of this country were created with the brilliant hopes and dreams that they would be key components of a dynamic, evolving, vibrant democracy. The immigration system would feed a young nation hungry for people with the dreams and ambitions which only freedom can ignite. The public education system would provide the young of these immigrants with the tools to forge dreams and ambitions of their own. The Statue of Liberty’s torch came to represent the bright future these two systems promised, and Lady Liberty herself became a lighthouse of opportunity for the world.
The purposes and intentions of these two systems were consistent with the Christian ethic of hard work, opportunity, redemption, and renewal. There is abundant evidence of the Christian ethic in the foundations on which this country was built, and that evidence is no less present in the public education and immigration systems.
These two systems have lost their connection with Christian ethics and with the dreams of their originators amid the politics, corruption, and incompetence of later stewards more concerned with personal agendas than public good. A public education system originally designed with God in mind has become a secular indoctrination system with a mind of its own. Instead of honoring its purpose of educating our young, this system has become an excuse for personal agendas and a means of political gain. Instead of providing a safe, nurturing learning environment, this system inflicts an unsafe, poorly-run environment on many children. Instead of educating our children toward a better future, our public education system confines them to a recurring present.
Our immigration system is no better. Originally designed to provide open arms to people yearning for freedom and full of ambition and dreams, this system represented the charity and generosity Christ stood for. Instead of providing a stairway to freedom and opportunity for those truly seeking those treasures, this system has also become an excuse for personal agendas and political gain and most deadly an open gateway to anyone with harmful, destructive intentions. Our immigration system used to promote assimilation while respecting cultural heritage, but it has now abandoned its focus on assimilation amid distorted notions of cultural pride, which promote ingratitude, arrogance, and disrespect to our nation, threatening us with the very tribalism that so many immigrants came here to escape.
My family came to these shores at a time when immigration to this country was truly a privilege and opportunity. We respected what this country stood for and wished to become a part of this society without losing our cultural heritage and traditions. We also respected the benefits and opportunities which this country offered, and the rights of those born here and those who came before us. From day one we tried to follow the letter of the law and we understood that rules and procedures had a purpose and function.
We understood that this country did not owe us anything beyond a chance to fulfill our dreams and ambitions. Like many immigrant families before us, we knew that our job was to work hard and do our best to contribute to this great nation. We fully believed the words of President Kennedy and sought how we could contribute instead of how we could be served.
Like the immigration system, the public education system has lost its way amid politics and personal greed. When bullies get away with their behavior in public schools and those entering illegally get more benefits than those following the law, the privilege of entering this country and the gift of a free public education are no longer valued, no longer viewed as something to be paid back with hard work and respect. In both systems we need to change the equation so that illegality, disrespect, unfairness, and incompetence are not rewarded. We need to refocus both systems on the original creeds of hard work, respect, morality, and fairness on which they were created.
© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange
Gabriel Garnica is a licensed attorney and educator with over 20 years' teaching experience at the college, business school, and middle school levels. He has a B.A. in psychology from St. John's University in New York and a J.D. from The New York University School of Law. Mr. Garnica writes extensively on spiritual and educational issues and conducts seminars on time management, leadership, and personal development.