You may have never heard of Joseph Fraunhofer, but you’ve benefited from his genius. Fraunhofer was a German orphan who was apprenticed to a cruel glassmaker named Weichelsberger at the end of the 18th century. He was only 11, but Weichelsberger fiercely kept him from attending school. The glassmaker saw more of a profit in keeping the boy hard at work. In 1801, Weichelsberger’s workshop collapsed, and Fraunhofer was trapped underneath the rubble. He may have been lost to the ages, but as Fate would have it, Prince Maximillian, the future king of Bavaria, showed up to help the cleanup effort, and took young Fraunhofer under his wing from then on. He demanded this orphan receive a proper education.
As a result of his schooling, Fraunhofer combined his glassmaking experience with his natural scientific ability and became the father of modern optics. He invented what we now call the spectrometer, and it is because of his work that we can figure out what things are made of just by analyzing the light coming at us from them. If you’ve ever heard scientists talk about what chemical elements far away stars are made of, and thought “How do they know that?,” our orphan genius in the Bavarian rubble is the reason why. Doctors can now even measure glucose levels for people with diabetes without the use of needles, because of Fraunhofer’s light spectrum work.
Fraunhofer’s story fascinates not because he was meant for greatness, but perhaps because we may never have benefited from his genius were it not for his chance meeting with someone who insisted on having him educated. But his story is not so unique. History is full of brilliant minds born poor and disadvantaged. Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. Surely you’ve heard of him. Da Vinci was an Italian genius born out of wedlock. He had no real last name. Da Vinci literally means “From the town of Vinci,” because he was not a legitimate son of his father. And yet, his father insisted on getting him his formal education. The rest is history. What amazing art, engineering, inventions, and scientific study could have been lost to the sands of time had this unwanted son been passed over for more promising pupils?
And yet that’s what we’re talking about doing in Mississippi- taking a pass on giving a full education to some of the kids, so the ones we prefer will get the top dollar teaching.
Here’s the logic “school choice” advocates talk about in shadowy rooms, behind closed doors: You can send your tax dollar to Jackson, but you’re not going to get the whole dollar back. Some of that dollar is gonna go to the kids in West Point, the kids in Jackson, the kids in the Delta. Or, you could send your tax dollar to downtown Madison, and that whole dollar is gonna be spent on Madison kids… “Our”…kids.
Let’s just sidestep the obvious tone of such claims for the time being, and focus on money.
The choice of approaches is basically the choice between creating two Mississippis, one each for the Haves and the Have Nots, or creating one Mississippi, flourishing and growing. Shannon Eubanks and others have written extensively on this. I’d highly recommend a side tour.
If you elect to create two Mississippis- one for your kids and another for somebody else’s, ignoring for the moment the problems it causes morally, patriotically, racially, socioeconomically, and spiritually, you will be missing out on the genius left untapped in neglecting the poorest of the poor. We all will. Mark my words: One day, and maybe one day soon, a kid will be born in Mississippi whose genius might just be enough to save us and move us up from 50th. The problem is, she won’t be wearing her Nobel Prize around her neck at age 5. You won’t be able to find her eventual Wikipedia page when your charter school looks over her application. Do you really want to take the risk of letting her languish in an underfunded school? When you could have pushed for full funding, for every kid in Mississippi, all along?
It may feel so empowering to hold onto your money tight, to grip it in your fist and not let go. But the smart thing is to invest it. Ask anybody, from Wall Street to Jesus Christ. Me, Me, Me won’t grow Mississippi. Us, Us, Us is how we rise. Together.
Every now and then great minds are born who can change the future of a society. The great societies are those which don’t allow those minds to go uneducated. Unfortunately, there’s no way to search for them before it’s too late. Oddly enough, it’s like farming crops. You can’t tell which seeds are going to give you the best plants just by looking at them. You have to plant them all and water the whole field.
You may think full funding for public education will mean not getting your tax money back. The truth is, you will get it back- you’ll just get it back by living in a better state. In a better future.
Don’t let the Da Vincis in the Delta slip through the cracks. Fully fund education for all Mississippi kids.