‘The public school is the greatest discovery made by man.’ —Horace Mann

A healthy democracy depends on having an educated and informed nation. Public schools serve this purpose more than any other institution. Likewise, investing in our public schools here in Santa Barbara is essential to the health of our community. But there are some who question the need for on-going or increased taxes for our public schools. I would argue that it is one of the most important and best investments the local Santa Barbara community can make on behalf of all citizens.

David Brooks, a writer for the New York Times, talks about being either a taxpayer or a citizen in his article on October 3, 2016. “You can be a taxpayer or you can be a citizen. If you’re a taxpayer your role in the country is defined by your economic and legal status. Your primary identity is individual. You’re perfectly within your rights to do everything you legally can to look after your self-interest. The problem with the taxpayer mentality is that you end up serving your individual interest short term but soiling the nest you need to be happy in over the long term.”

David Foster Wallace writes, “It may sound reactionary, I know. But we can all feel it. We’ve changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities.” Senator John McCain says that “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself.”

We all have a choice to withdraw into self-interest or reach out to one another, invest in someone else’s children, and be part of making our entire community stronger. Education is more than preparing a work force, we are preparing the next generation of citizens and leaders. Instead of determining how cheaply we can get the job done through our public schools, we should make education one of our highest priorities in our nation and locally.

I have lived by this quote from an educator named Lillian Katz: “Each of us must come to care about everyone else’s children. We must recognize that the welfare of our children and grandchildren is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people’s children. After all, when one of our children needs lifesaving surgery, someone else’s child will perform it. If one of our children is threatened or harmed by violence, someone else’s child will be responsible for the violent act. The good life for our own children can be secured only if a good life is also secured for all other people’s children.”

I ask that all of us be citizens and more than just taxpayers.

Cary Matsuoka is the superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District.


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