Urban Education in an American Passport


 I’ll do lots of things to
pass the time waiting in long immigration lines.  Recently, while leaving Hong Kong, I began
to more closely study the pages of my American passport. 

 The first page is the one
with my picture and personal information. 
After that there are 26 more pages. 
Some of these pages have information or instructions.  Which, interestingly, one explained what to
do should I lose my passport.  Most,
however, are blank pages to be filled with visas and stamps of visited
countries.  On each page is a subtle
drawing of a great American scene such as Mount Rushmore or the Mississippi
River.  At the top of these pages are
quotes from famous Americans.  These
scenes and quotes both serve the same purpose: to communicate in picture and in
words what is uniquely best about our country. 

If you wanted to find one
place to learn the secret of our nation’s greatness, a passport would be a
great place to start.  For example, hear our
American ideals….

 Page 3… We the people of the
United States, in order to form a more perfect Union,  establish
insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves
and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States of America.  – The Constitution of the United States of

 Page 10 and 11… We hold these
truths to be self-evident; that all men
are created equal
, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.  – Declaration of Independence

 Pages 14 and 15… Let every
nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price,
bear any burden, meet and hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in
order to assure the survival and the
success of liberty.
  – John F. Kennedy

 Pages 22 and 23… May God continue the unity or our country as
the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.  – inscribed
on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869

26 & 27…
The cause of freedom is
not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class- it is the cause of
humankind, the very birthright of
– Anna Julia Cooper

Every generation has the obligation
to free men’s minds
for a look at new worlds… to look out from a higher
plateau than the last generation.  – Ellison Onizuka

 Pages 12 and 13… We have a
great dream.  It started way back in
1776, and God grant that America will be
true to her dream.
  – Martin Luther King

I discern from these strategically selected pictures and quotes is that what
makes America great are our majestic and diverse landscapes and our deep allegiance
to a God-given responsibility for the protection and security of justice,
liberty, freedom and education for every single citizen.  All citizens, as made in God’s image, have
equal value and are due equal access to these four pillars of American society.
This was the Great Experiment of 1776 that has been reaffirmed by our leaders
for the past 235 years.  This is our
great dream.  And this founding American
Dream is affirmed, again and again, in every American’s certificate of
citizenship.  And, in a sense, it is what
is presented to every visited country as our distinctive.  As I hand the immigration officer in China my
passport, I am handing him a document that proudly proclaims, “We the People of
the United States promise every American citizen justice.”  What a powerful claim and gift to the world
we make as we travel the globe…

I can’t help but recognize when the average ACT score of Memphis public school
students is a 16.6 and the average ACT score of the graduating class of a
leading Memphis suburban private school is a 28.3, justice has not been
provided every citizen.  A Dream is still
a dream when there is a 70% gap in the academic achievement between two
categories of students. 

those of us who most fervently assent to the notion of man’s “image of God” and
therefore best understand that “rich and poor have this in common, the same
maker made them both” be the ones that also most fervently work to provide
justice in education to all children. 
And in doing so we honor both our nation’s ideals and, more importantly,
the God who created man, nations and the wisdom by which man and nations should