Tom On Point: A Student’s Voice

Thomas J. Gentzel

I recently attended a celebration of public schools in Baltimore County, Maryland, one of the nation’s largest school systems. The program was filled with outstanding student performances and reports on the impressive progress this highly diverse district has been making in achieving academic gains for all students.

One portion of the program in particular struck me. It was a poem by Abigail Fanshaw, a student at Dulaney High School who I think captured why public education in America really matters. With her permission, I gladly provide this space so ASBJ readers can benefit from what she has to say:

“How We Learn”
We have become a sheltered people;
We surround ourselves with familiarity,
People who talk the same way,
Believe the same things,
And play the same game.
We segregate ourselves
And wonder why
Why we turn against each other.

It’s because we live in a world
Where there are a million different colors,
A million different races,
A million different religions
That we cut ourselves off from
And refuse to try to understand.
In a world of self-segregation
We tear each other apart.
But just because we are divided,

Do not think we are hopeless
That we are beyond fixing
That we are in too deep.

Because there is a place
Where we have no choice
But to dive head first
Into a sea of diversity.
A place where we are proud
Proud of a million different colors,
Proud of a million different races,
Proud of a million different religions.

Our education is not
Made up of only numbers
Of quizzes and tests
Of books written by bleak sameness.
We learn the most from those
Who aren’t a mere reflection
Of what we’ve always known
And what we’ve always believed.

We become each other’s teachers;
We share views on faith,
Views on politics,
Views on social institutions,
Things we would otherwise know
nothing about. We will never learn,

We will never grow,
We will never love each other
If we stare at the same picture;
A portrait painted in black and white,
Void of beauty
Wrought by education.

These words capture a profoundly important attribute of American public education—the opportunity for students not only to learn subject matter but to appreciate that people matter, too. The diversity of the U.S. is one of our nation’s greatest assets. The ethnic and racial groups that come here may change in composition over time, but the melting pot continues unabated, thanks in large measure to public schools.

We do, indeed, learn from each other, from those “who aren’t a mere reflection of what we’ve always known.” Thank you, Abigail, for reminding us why our commitment to a strong system of public education is so vital.

Tom Gentzel

Thomas J. Gentzel ( is executive director and CEO of NSBA. Follow Gentzel on Twitter @Tom_NSBA


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