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The need to succeed at teaching children is at the basic core of everything we do in Madison schools.

So why did the very society that depends on us to educate their most precious beings, their children, come to be so apprehensive about us? How did this happen? When did our state Legislature and many of our fellow citizens decide that an increase and/or a change in public financing of education was not in their interest?

Perhaps we all need to calm down and ask ourselves the very basic question of why we have public schools. The following tenets are a good start:

1. To provide universal access to free education.

2. To guarantee equal opportunities for all children.

3. To unify a diverse population.

4. To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.

5. To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.

6. To improve social conditions.

7. To pass knowledge from one generation to the next.

8. To share the accumulated wisdom of the ages.

9. To instill in our young people a love for a lifetime of learning.

10. To bring a richness and depth to life.

Many Americans have either forgotten, disregard, or no longer view public schools as needed to achieve the above. Some, not all, view the public schools in a much more narrow and self-indulgent way -- “What are the public schools going to do for me and my child?” -- and do not look at what the schools so richly provide for everyone in a democratic society.

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Instead of understanding that the older generation paid for my education and now I must pay for schooling the next generation, many Americans cannot get beyond what it is costing them personally.

We pay taxes to support the role public education plays in civilizing and enriching our society. This is a right owed to all our children. Our public schools have historically been the great equalizer in our country. This money is due our children -- it is owed them. It is not a generous luxury, through taxation, benevolently bestowed upon them. If we are to remain a democracy, we must educate our children.

As a School Board member, I tell my community that we still have excellent teachers and wonderful schools but, more often than not, good news seems to fall on deaf ears. Some prefer to listen to the negative news media, and not just criticize or discuss or debate but, rather, relentlessly and vehemently attack everything around them. Instead of thinking of possibilities and dreams, I seem to be surrounded by pessimism, hate and distrust.

If we attack our schools, it seems so much easier for us to abandon them. And so our schools will languish and remain desperate for much-needed help. An additional irony is that our rapidly changing demographics in Madison create a need for even more money for more needy children at a time when we receive less funding for all our children.

Most now agree that the property tax no longer works as the method for funding public schools. This is not just a Wisconsin problem but a national epidemic as well. Any changes in support for education must be accompanied by a major shift in the attitudes and philosophies currently held by many Americans.

I believe that the Madison Metropolitan School District and our community are up to this task.

Marj Passman is a member of the Madison School Board. This column represents her personal views only.

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