Dan often says that the greatest gift and advantage he received from supportive parents was his education. Raised in Philadelphia, he attended Germantown Friends School, steeped in Quaker ethics and the spirit of inquiry. His mother was and is a professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania, his father a successful entrepreneur; spirited dinner table conversation was another great educational forum.
After four undergraduate years at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Dan enrolled in the Quaker City School of Aeronautics, a two-year vocational school where he earned his certification to work as an airplane mechanic. It was an unusual, perhaps unique path for a Wesleyan graduate, driven by his aviation passion. He was one of very few students at the school who was not a veteran, not supported by the GI Bill. In the years to come, as GI benefits were cut, this and many vocational schools were forced to close their doors; today, ironically, as CEO of an airline, Dan has seen a serious shortage of qualified airplane mechanics to fill good-paying jobs – yet another example of how government programs helped grow our economy, and why they should continue.
All three of Dan and Heidi’s daughters graduated from public high school on Cape Cod, also benefiting from regional charter schools. Dan served on the boards of three local schools and has been a strong supporter of community colleges, working to create an opportunity he understands well – a partnership between Cape Air and state colleges to start a program to qualify a new generation of airplane mechanics.
Our Commonwealth has made remarkable progress in education, consistently scoring among the highest if not the highest in the nation on standardized tests. We need to build on that success, expanding our educational system first by emphasizing and supporting universal early childhood education; study after study has shown that programs like Head Start at pre-school levels offer children beautiful benefits going forward.
We need to train young people for today’s tests, and tomorrow’s jobs, but also celebrate the full range of creative learning and effort. The creative side of the brain is as important as the logical side, and often just as key to success. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math create the acronym STEM, but the better goal for our Commonwealth is to include the Arts as a full partner in public education; let’s use the acronym STEAM.
We also need to understand that education is the key to economic and social mobility. The national consequences of not fully investing in public education have now become clear: by all economic measures, class mobility in our nation (an academic term for what most of us call the American Dream) no longer is a reality; of all developed countries, our class structure has among the highest barriers, offering fewer and fewer opportunities to climb the ladder.
Public education is at the heart of what it means both to have this mobility and to have a strong democracy; without it, there is no informed citizenry to make our crucial decisions. If public education is priced out of the reach of many, it no longer truly is public. And so there is another educational goal as a bookend to early childhood education:
Roll back the cost of public higher education to levels comparable to 25 years ago. This is a crucial investment in our future, and demands that we commit more public resources to the effort.