Five Reasons to Teach the EU

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Tour Participants

In June 2019, the Delegation of the EU to the USA hosted a study tour to Brussels for American educators to learn about the EU. I had the honor of being the curriculum specialist for the tour, showing participants a variety of resources and helping them think about ways to take all of the information back to their students and colleagues. With that in mind, here are five reasons to bring the EU into your curriculum.

1. The EU is a fascinating democratic experiment which has led to peace since its establishment.

The idea that countries were willing to integrate certain sectors and give up a bit of their sovereignty to ensure peace is a quite positive story. That historical context, coupled with the way the EU is set up, can lead to opportunities for great discussions about multi-level governance, legitimacy, and sovereignty. Teachers can also try some of the simulations on the Delegation’s website.

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Here’s me leading a curriculum workshop on teaching resources

2. The post-Cold War generation needs to understand why Europe matters.

Given the nature of the Cold War, it made sense to emphasize transatlantic relations, especially in terms of trade and security. Even though the Cold War ended almost thirty years ago, those issues are still relevant today. Students can see, for example, how much the EU trades with the US and also with their respective state. In terms of security, the EU and the US cooperate in numerous areas (e.g. energy security, cyber security, and maintaining peace.)

Example of information for a state from http://www.euintheustrade.org/

3. The US can learn a lot from the EU.

At a time when global problems require global solutions, the EU’s emphasis on multilateralism provides students with lessons about the importance of working together toward a common solution. Additionally, the EU is a leader in many policy areas, such as climate change and social issues (e.g. the European Pillar of Social Rights.)

4. Learning about the EU increases students’ global awareness.

If we want our students to be aware of the world around them, the EU is a great starting point. With the EU’s emphasis on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), teachers can first start out by talking about the 2030 Agenda and move on to EU policies in each of the seventeen goals. Additionally, since the EU is a global leader in development aid, students can learn what the EU does to help other countries make progress toward the SDG’s.

5. Teaching the EU is interdisciplinary.

At first glance, teaching the EU seems to be most at home in social studies classes. Due to the variety of cultures and languages (24 official ones!), however, the EU can be taught in music (think “Ode to Joy,”) art, foreign language, and even culinary classes.

Interested in teaching the EU?
·
Begin with “Europe in 12 Lessons,” a publication that covers areas such as the history of the EU, its institutions, and what the future might bring.

· For something more in depth, you might want to use “How the EU Works.”

· If you’re looking for activities and materials, the EU has a website called the “Learning Corner.”

· Finally, to keep updated on EU-US relations, follow the Delegation of the EU to the USA and the Ambassador on social media.

Teaching US Students about the Nordics

One of the classes I teach is AP Comparative Government and Politics; so, every May the students take the AP test on what they’ve learned throughout the year.  This leaves us with three weeks after the test until the end of the school year, meaning I have to find something engaging and educational, but not too intense, for my students.  This year I tried something new- a unit on the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden).

Format
Given the nature of the class, I wanted to make sure students learned about each country’s government and policies.  For the policies, we focused on two areas in which the Nordics excel- gender equality and sustainability.  To help them with these policies, I gave them two readings- The Nordic Gender Effect at Work, and A Good Life in a Sustainable Nordic Region: Nordic Strategy for Sustainable Development, 2013-2025.  I also planned on having students learn about each country’s culture, with a focus on language and food.  To help them start their research I gave them the websites for the Nordic Council and the respective embassies, ministries of foreign affairs, and ministries of the environment.

Indicators
One of the topics we discuss during the year is indicators because they help us learn about a government’s values and priorities.  The textbook we use focuses on four broad categories- 1) measuring wealth, 2) measuring inequality and poverty, 3) the Human Development Index (HDI), and 4) happiness- as such, we looked for a variety of related indicators and included the US just to see how we stack up against the Nordics. (*Note: The first five after the HDI rank are all found on the HDI website)

HDI (rank): Denmark- 11; Finland- 15; Iceland- 6; Norway- 1; Sweden- 7; USA- 13

Life expectancy at birth (years): Denmark- 80.9; Finland- 81.8; Iceland- 82.9; Norway- 82.51; Sweden- 82.6; USA- 78.69

Mean years of schooling (years): Denmark- 12.6; Finland- 17.6; Iceland- 12.4; Norway- 12.6; Sweden- 17.6; USA- 13.2

GDP per capita: Denmark- $56,307.51; Finland- $45,703.33; Iceland- $46,483; Norway- $74,504.57; Sweden- $47,766; USA- $54,225

Income inequality, Gini coefficient (100 equals complete inequality): Denmark- 26; Finland- 27.1; Iceland- 25.6; Norway- 25.8; Sweden- 24.9; USA- 41.5

Carbon dioxide emissions, per capita (tonnes): Denmark- 5.94; Finland- 8.66; Iceland- 6.1; Norway- 9.27; Sweden- 4.5; USA- 16.49

Environmental Performance Index (rank): Denmark- 3; Finland- 10; Iceland- 11; Norway- 14; Sweden- 5; USA- 27

Total paid leave available to mothers (weeks): Denmark- 50; Finland- 161; Iceland- 26; Norway- 91; Sweden- 55.7; USA- 0

Gender Inequality Index (rank): Denmark- 2; Finland- 8; Iceland- 9; Norway- 5; Sweden- 3; USA-41

Global Gender Gap (rank): Denmark- 13; Finland- 4; Iceland- 1; Norway- 2; Sweden- 3; USA- 51

Women in national parliament (percentage and rank): Denmark-37.4%, 26; Finland-41.5%, 12; Iceland-38.1%, 22; Norway-40.8%, 14; Sweden-47.3%, 5; USA-23.5% and 25%, 79

Freedom in the world (score out of 100, 100 being the best): Denmark- 97; Finland- 100; Iceland- 95; Norway- 100; Sweden- 100; USA- 86

World Happiness Report (rank): Denmark- 2; Finland- 1; Iceland- 4; Norway- 3; Sweden- 7; USA- 19

Good Country Index (overall rank): Denmark- 6; Finland- 1; Iceland- 36; Norway- 8; Sweden- 4; USA- 40

Government and Policies
Similar to most teachers, I try to make the topics we discuss in class interesting and  come alive.  One way I’ve done that is through Skype.  In the past we’ve talked with Žygimantas Pavilionis, the former ambassador for Lithuania to the US; Carl Skau,  Ambassador to the Security Council and Spokesperson for Sweden’s Mission to the UN; and Chris Kendall and Jon Worth, experts/analysts on both Brexit and European Union. These experiences are always valuable because the students get to learn from someone who knows way more about the topic than I do and who is not me (as much as the students love seeing my face every day and hearing my voice, they benefit from a “change in scenery”).

One thing that has really impressed me about the Nordic ambassadors is they hold Twitter Q+A sessions (#AskNordicAmbs) on a variety of topics (the most recent one was LGBTQ+ rights).  In that spirit, I reached out to all five embassies via Twitter (and email) seeing if the respective ambassadors or their staff would be interested in Skyping with my students.  As a result, I was able to set up sessions with four of the five embassies:

Denmark: Jeppe Mathias Helsted, Senior Advisor (Climate and Energy)
Finland: Sirpa Nyberg, Head of Political Affairs
Norway: Ambassador Kåre R. Aas
Sweden: Göran Lithell, Deputy Chief of Mission

All four were very informative and gracious in answering my students’ questions.  Besides basic information, they all made sure to discuss the two focus areas of sustainability and gender equality.

Protecting the environment and sustainability are quite important to the Nordic way of life.  In particular, it was a point of pride for two people to mention their countries had achieved economic growth while simultaneously lowering GHG emissions.  Additionally,  Amb. Aas discussed the use of battery powered ferries and even airplanes to combat climate change, as well as the emphasis on protecting the oceans.

When it comes to gender equality, one important reason for their success is their respective social welfare systems.  Subsidized daycare.  Free education.  Paid parental leave (including mandatory leave for fathers).  Universal healthcare.  The list goes on and on.  All of these services help to empower women and girls and give them the same opportunities as men and boys.

My only regret from this part of the unit is that we had a mere forty-five minutes to talk with each of them.

Culture
As much as I wanted students to learn a bit of the languages, I was unable to set anything up with people from the university to come and help us.  I guess I’ll just have to be more persistent next year.

To get a taste of the culture of the Nordics, I had students create an itinerary for a week-long trip to their respective countries.  They then had to present their travel guide to the class.  The trip had to include include visits that emphasized the following:

  1. Culture (art, music, language, etc.)
  2. Food
  3. Nature
  4. Innovation
  5. Sustainability

It also had include:

  1. A lot of pictures
  2. Accommodation (where are visitors going to stay?)
  3. Transportation (how are visitors going to go from one place to the next?)
  4. The total cost of the trip

The results were fantastic.  Some groups looked for dates to coincide with festivals or other celebrations.  Others also took advantage of the bicycle-friendly infrastructure and well-established public transportation.  They were also able to make time for trips to picturesque parks and other outdoor areas.  Finally, as to be expected, there were a few museum visits to learn about the Vikings.

One thing I would like to add for next year is movies or tv shows.  I had time to show only one episode of one of my favorite shows on Netflix, “Occupied,” which is set in Norway.  If anybody reads this and has recommendations, please leave a response below.

Conclusion
The students seemed to get a lot out of the unit.  It illustrated the values and priorities of other governments (other than the ones we studied during the year), and it got students thinking about what they want to see from our government here.  Many of them also seemed quite keen to visit the Nordics (or at least one of the countries); in fact, one student asked about immigration policy.   As for me, I have already made it a goal to visit as many of the Nordics as possible and to continue teaching my students about them.

If you have any ideas for next year’s unit on the Nordics, please leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.

 

Gender Equality in the Nordic Countries

Yesterday, ambassadors from the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) to the US held a “Twitter Town Hall” using the hashtag, #AskNordicAmbs to discuss their policies on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Questions from users included topics such as education, foreign policy, the gender pay gap, parental leave, and political participation.  Just to give you a general idea of where the countries stand in terms of gender equality, here are the top 20 from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Gap Report. (Note: The US is ranked 51st out of 149)

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After the “Town Hall” was over, I thought it would be useful to share information about gender equality in the countries in one place. The information is not comprehensive; instead, it provides more of an introduction and general knowledge.

Denmark
Act on Gender Equality, 2000
– “The purpose of this Act is to promote gender equality, including equal integration, equal influence and Gender Equality in all functions in society on the basis of women’s and men’s equal status. The purpose of the Act is also to counteract direct and indirect discrimination on the ground of gender and to counteract sexual harassment.”

Denmark’s National Action Plan for implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security 2014 – 2019
– “Women are first and foremost a great resource for their communities and countries – and in all efforts to achieve sustainable development and peace.”

European Institute for Gender Equality

Income and Gender Equality in Denmark
– “Women in Denmark generally work outside the home and pursue careers while raising a family, assisted by the country’s generous parental leave and tax-subsidised daycare.”

Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation
– Part of the Minister’s responsibilities is gender equality

Parental Leave
– “In total, parents in Denmark get 52 weeks of paid parental leave.”

Statistics: Gender Equality
– “A series of selected key indicators which illustrate some of the differences and similarities between the current life situation of men and women.”


Finland

European Institute for Gender Equality

Finland: Pioneer in Gender Equality
– “Finland was the first country to grant full political rights to women in 1906. For more than 100 years women have had active roles in working life and decision making.”

Gender Equality in Finland, 2018 (Report)
– Includes milestones in gender equality as well as data in eleven different areas.

Maternity, Paternity, and Parental Leave
– “Under the Employment Contracts Act, an employee is entitled to a period of leave during which he or she can receive a maternity, special maternity, paternity or parental allowance. Maternity leave is 105 week days.”

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health: Gender Equality
– “The MSAH plays a key role in promoting gender equality by preparing legislation, monitoring the situation of gender equality nationwide, coordinating the development of activities on gender equality and promoting the implementation of the objectives of the government’s equality policy.”

National Institute for Health and Welfare: Gender Equality
– “In Finland, the promotion of gender equality has been considered important in many different areas of life.”

Statistics Finland: Gender Equality

Women, Peace, and Security: Finland’s National Action Plan, 2018-2021
– “Through the NAP, Finland aims to contribute effectively to sustainable peace by strengthening women’s participation.”


Iceland
Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, No. 10/2008
– “The aim of this Act is to establish and maintain equal status and equal opportunities for women and men, and thus promote gender equality in all spheres of the society.”

Gender Equality in Iceland
– “Icelanders takes pride in their fellow Icelanders who do well.”

Iceland’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security
– “Gender equality goes hand in hand with stability and peace in the international community.”

Maternity/Paternity Leave and Parental Leave
– “The parents of a child are entitled to paid leave at childbirth, when adopting a child and when becoming a permanent foster parent. They receive holiday allowance or childbirth allowance, depending on their situation in the labour market.”

Parliamentary Resolution on a Gender Equality Action Programme for the Period 2016-2019


Norway

Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020
– “This Action Plan gives priority to education for girls, women’s political and economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. Progress in all these areas is crucial if girls and women are to be empowered and have the freedom and opportunities to shape their own lives.”

Gender Equality Act
– “The purpose of this Act is to promote equality irrespective of gender.”

Gender Equality in Practice: Equal opportunities for women and men
– “In this White Paper, the Government will address challenges to achieving equality between women and men. The Government will focus its efforts on five areas in which equality still faces formidable challenges…These areas are childhood and education, working life, health, business and industry, and protection against violence.”

Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion: Gender Equality
– “The Ministry deals with gender equality in working life, women and power, and men and equality. It is a driving force in the work of developing a gender perspective in the national budget.”

Parental Leave
– “There is no single agreed name for Maternity or Parental leave in Norway.”

Women and Men in Norway, 2018
– “Statistics Norway presents statistics on women and men in Norway within 14 different areas of society.”

Women, Peace, and Security, 2019-2022
– “Norway will have a more systematic focus on women, peace and security in our efforts to support the implementation of peace agreements, strengthen the gender perspective in international operations and missions, and increase our efforts for women and girls in our humanitarian work.”


Sweden

European Institute for Gender Equality

Feminist Foreign Policy
– “Equality between women and men is a fundamental aim of Swedish foreign policy. Ensuring that women and girls can enjoy their fundamental human rights is both an obligation within the framework of our international commitments, and a prerequisite for reaching Sweden’s broader foreign policy goals on peace, and security and sustainable development.”

Gender Equality in Sweden
– “Gender equality is one of the cornerstones of Swedish society. The aim of Sweden’s gender equality policies is to ensure that everyone enjoys the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life.”

Government Policy: Gender Equality
– “Gender equality is equality between women and men, who should have the same opportunities to shape society and their own lives.This area includes issues such as power, influence, finances, education, work and physical integrity.”

Parental Benefits

Sweden’s National Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security 2016–2020
– “Sweden’s feminist foreign policy has a clear focus on supporting women as actors for peace and security. The influence and meaningful participation of women in peace and security is both about rights and effectiveness.”

Women and Men in Sweden, 2018
– Includes milestones and statistics in ten different areas.


Women in National Parliaments

All five Nordic countries are in the top 25 (out of 193).

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Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union

 

Conclusion
While each country still has work to do in regards to gender equality and women’s empowerment, it’s pretty easy to see why the Nordic countries continually rank high among the best countries to be a woman.  American policymakers and elected officials would do well to look to the Nordic countries for inspiration.

Finally, if you happen to know of a link that should be added, please leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.

Restoring America’s Place in the World: A Foreign Policy for the Next Democratic President

For the at least the past decade, pundits have written about the decline of the US as a global power, and it has only increased since 2016 with the election of Donald Trump.  As a proud Progressive/Liberal/Social Democrat (use whatever label you like) and as a globalist, I have been nothing short of dismayed and ashamed of U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.

Now that most of the top-tier Democratic candidates are officially on the campaign trail for 2020, I am looking forward to reading their policy papers, especially those outlining foreign policy.  Since candidates still don’t have those available, however, I thought I would share my vision for restoring America’s place in the world.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list.

Climate Change
The U.S. must re-enter the Paris Agreement.  We must also pledge to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and increase the share of renewable energy in our energy mix.

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Source: U.S. EIA

To give us an idea of what our goals should be, let’s look at the EU’s targets for 2030 in these two areas.

  • At least 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990
  • At least 27% of total energy consumption from renewable energy

If the U.S. wants to be a global leader, then we need to lead by example and set the standards for others to emulate.  When it comes to climate change, we need to be especially bold.

Being a global leader means being a good steward of the environment.  

Humanitarian Aid and Development
When it comes to official development assistance (ODA), the US has consistently fallen short of the target of .7% of GNI.  In 2017, the US spent .18% of GNI on ODA, placing it ninth worst among OECD countries; however, it was number one in overall spending with $35.26 billion.  Imagine how much good could have been done had the US met the .7% target.  The irony here is that while President Trump has chastised our NATO allies for not spending 2% of GDP on defense, the US has not met the target for ODA.

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Source: OECD

    To the critics who say, “We’ve got our own problems here, let’s fix those first,” I say, you’re right, we do have problems here, but that does not mean we turn inward and promote an “America First” policy.

Being a global leader means helping those in need- at home and abroad.

Human Rights
We must do more to promote human rights abroad.  Among the many rights we should protect:

  • The right to food (too many people around the world live in hunger and food insecurity)
  • The right to water (too many people around the world live without clean water or proper sanitation)
  • The right to an education (too many people around the world, especially girls, don’t get a proper education)
  • The right to health care (too many people around the world live in countries with high mortality rates, diseases like AIDS and malaria, and a lack of reproductive health care)
  • The right to shelter (too many people around the world live without access to safe, reliable, and affordable housing)

Additionally, we must do more to promote and protect gender equality.  Sweden is a leader in regards to having a feminist foreign policy.  As for international commitments, the U.S. should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Finally, we are the only country that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  That must change.

Being a global leader means ensuring the rights of others to live in dignity and fulfill their potential.

Military and Defense
I served eleven years in the Army (two years in the Reserves, four on Active Duty, and five in the National Guard).  In that time, I worked in an office, in a Bradley, and in a Howitzer.  I know how important it is to have the proper equipment.  That said, we need to drastically decrease our military and defense spending.  To give you an idea of how much we spend, here are just three images from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Additionally, according to a recent study from Brown University, the U.S. will have spent an estimated $5.9 trillion on the War on Terror.  We must review our involvement in the Middle East.

When is enough, enough? Is our military sufficient to “provide for the common defence”?

Being a global leader means keeping the peace and knowing when to use force for the greater good.

Multilateralism
The U.S. must unequivocally reaffirm our commitment to international organizations and treaties.  Global issues require global solutions.  Cooperation, not competition.  An outstretched hand, not a closed fist.  Multilateralism, not unilateralism.

Much of the current order was established at the end of the Second World War, more than seventy years ago.  A lot has changed since then- the end of European imperialism in Africa and Asia, a new wave of globalization (thanks to the internet), and the end of the Cold War.  As such, some international organizations may need reform to catch up to the 21st century.

When the U.S. signs multilateral agreements, e.g. the Paris Agreement or the Iran Deal, we need to stick to them.  Withdrawing is bad diplomacy and makes towards future agreements more difficult.

Finally, the Trump administration has repeatedly alienated our European allies.  It is going to take a lot of work to rebuild transatlantic relations, but it must be done.  We must reassure both NATO and the EU that they have a friend in the U.S.

Being a global leader means being a team player.

Conclusion
I know there are a lot of areas to foreign policy that I didn’t cover (trade, migration, crime, cybersecurity, etc.), but this should be a good start to get us thinking about how we can restore America’s place in the world.  Whomever the new president is in 2020, she/he will have a lot of work to repair the damage done by the Trump administration.

Thanks for reading.

Towards a North American Education Area?

Like many of my posts, this one came about as a result of a tweet- this time from the EU Council.

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Having taught now for seventeen years, I’m always looking for new ideas regarding education policy, and I’ve thought about education reform a number of times.  As such, I clicked on the link in the tweet for more info, and it led me to the European Commission’s website on the European Education Area.  According to the site,

The goal is that, in Europe:

  • spending time abroad to study and learn should be the standard;
  • school and higher education diplomas should be recognised across the EU;
  • knowing two languages in addition to one’s mother tongue should become the norm;
  • everyone should be able to access high quality education, irrespective of their socio-economic background; and
  • people should have a strong sense of their identity as Europeans, of Europe’s cultural heritage and its diversity.

With a little innovation and ingenuity, we should be able to adapt these goals here in the U.S. and North America.  For right now, I’m going to give some preliminary thoughts on the first three.

Time Abroad
I see two possibilities here, both of which would require a program similar to that of the EU’s Erasmus+.  The first possibility would give students grants to study abroad in either Canada, Mexico, or the U.S.  If that’s too big of a step to take right away, then we could limit ourselves to the U.S. and give students grants to study in other states.  Right now, attending a university in another state other than the one in which a student resides is a costly option.  Here are three examples:

An out-of-state undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will pay three times as much as a resident of my state.

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The one exception to this is the reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Minnesota, where students can go to a university in the other state for pretty much the same amount as in-state tuition.

An out-of-state undergraduate at UCLA will pay almost twice as much as a resident of California.

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For a full time undergraduate at the University of Texas‘ School of Education, in-state tuition is $5,237 for 12+ credit hours, whereas out-of-state costs $18,549.

It should not be so difficult for students to study in other states.  We should encourage our youth to see more of “the world” (or in this case, the U.S.) than just the state in which they grow up.  In doing so, students would see more of the cultural heritage of the U.S. and some its diversity.

Recognition of Diplomas
In this case, not only should all 50 states should recognize diplomas from the others,  they should also recognize professional licenses as well.  If you really want to attract a diverse pool of candidates that are highly qualified, then it makes sense to accept diplomas and licenses from other states.

Using educators as an example, we see that very few states accept out-of-state licenses without attaching conditions.  In Wisconsin, if you are an educator from a different state, you must meet additional requirements.  How difficult would it be for the U.S. Department of Education to establish and oversee licensing requirements so that a teacher in Wisconsin can also be a teacher in a different state without having to meet additional requirements?

Languages
Here, I’m going to use part of a post I wrote a few years ago about Russ Feingold’s book.

“I do not know why this is not more of a priority in our education system, although I can guess it is because the US borders only two countries- Canada and Mexico- and therefore learning another language has never really been seen as a necessity…  [Twice now] I’ve traveled to Germany as part of an exchange program between my high school and a Gesamtschule.  I was amazed at how early students there begin learning English.  On top of that, many of them usually learn a third language.  Of course, I can see why learning a foreign language might be a necessity in Europe, given the fact that any one country borders many different countries.  As globalization continues, it is imperative that Americans learn foreign languages.  If we want to conduct business in other countries, study overseas, or even just learn about another culture, learning a foreign language is crucial.”

To that end, I recommend we start learning Spanish in elementary school and ending upon completion of high school.  Given that approximately 40 million residents speak Spanish at home, and the U.S. is geographically close to Latin America, it makes perfect sense that American students learn Spanish.

Conclusion
Now that we’re beginning to see politicians announce their candidacies for the 2020 presidential campaign, I’m looking forward to seeing what they say about education and their ideas for reform, especially college affordability.  As a public school teacher, I believe we do the best we can with the limited resources we have; however, I think we can do better.  We must do better…for our present and for our future.

Thanks for reading.