Originally published December 7, 2011 at 4:50 PM | Page modified December 8, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Guest columnist

Students must take responsibility for education as budget cuts loom

Guest columnist Ian Engelbeck urges students not to leave their education to politicians or teachers, especially as budget cuts loom. Students must invest their time and effort in themselves and take charge of their learning.

Special to The Times

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WE are the future. It's a phrase that gets thrown around a lot as students once again speak out against budget cuts to our education system. The powers-that-be must invest in "the future," they say ["Don't pawn off our future," Opinion, Dec. 3]. Cuts must be made, they allow, but not from the education system! The future must be protected, and cared for and coddled. It's in the hands of the politicians to keep the future alive and bright.

Well, there's one problem right there. Another problem is that these students seem to forget whose future it is. It isn't the future of the politicians. It's ours. So why are we letting the politicians do what they want with it? It's our future, and we need to take direct responsibility for it.

Like any student, I've had good teachers and bad teachers. Our schools are never going to be filled with only good teachers, but there is one lesson best taught by a bad teacher: The responsibility for one's education can only be one's own.

It's an often-quoted fact that one of the greatest scientific and political minds this continent has produced only had two years of formal education. This trivia about Benjamin Franklin is sometimes used to point out his unique genius. However, Franklin's genius is not unique. Why did one of 17 children of a candle and soap maker become so successful? As a child, Franklin quickly learned that nobody was going to do anything for him, and this was certainly true of his education. So he read.

Franklin was self-educated and self-motivated and every student can be, too. Whether you go to a top-rated school or not, the value of your education is always going to be proportional to the effort you put into it. Students today can learn a lot by Franklin's example.

Our state and our country are struggling. What is it about students that make us a special class of citizens who cannot be asked to make sacrifices? It is true that young people are the future of our nation, but we limit and paralyze ourselves when we expect to learn exclusively from teachers and professors, especially as we live in a time when information is more accessible than ever.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney and Thomas Edison all dropped out of school at some time or other. Yet they are some of the people who pushed the limits of human knowledge and experience.

The purpose of our education system is to mass-produce general knowledge. It is not designed to turn out new Edisons or Einsteins.

Students have a choice: How would we like our education? Mass produced? Or made just for us? Surely the answer is "made just for us," for the same reason that the quality of a product handmade by a craftsman outstrips things that come off a production line.

But craftsmen must be paid for their individual attention. The state cannot make an affordable education system based on that model. But students can. Every student is the craftsman of their own education, whether they realize it or not.

We as students must dismiss the idea that we are entitled to a good education. We are not. Good education is not our country's duty to us, but our duty to our country and to ourselves. We cannot forget Kennedy's words: "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

We are the future, with all the responsibility that brings. We are citizens, with all the obligations of a citizen. We must shoulder these responsibilities; we must ensure for ourselves that we are well-educated. Nobody, not teachers or politicians, can do it for us.

Ian Engelbeck of Issaquah is a senior at Skyline High School in Sammamish.


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