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E Pluribus Unum in the Classroom: Reforming American Education & Living Up to the America’s Motto

By Isabella Rappaccioli

Nine different schools. In my sixteen years of living, I have attended nine different schools in two different states. Few things in my life have remained consistent, but the most critical among those few? Books.

When I sought to hear the stories of people like me, second-generation Latinos, they were there, shining proudly through novels like I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Mexican WhiteBoy. When I wanted to explore foreign countries I couldn’t afford to visit, they were there to take me on that journey. When I needed someone, something to understand me when nothing and no one else did, they were there and they continue to be in nearly every key milestone of my life.  And if you want to know the truth of it, there are millions of people across the globe that feel the exact same way, perhaps to an even more intense degree. 

There is no other word I can use to describe the type of hateful legislation and the suite of proposed bills attacking librarians and our freedom to read these past few years as anything other than baffling. In a country that claims to place so much value on education and cultural awareness, it is entirely wasteful to pass legislation that redirects resources toward implementing a solution to a fabricated problem. Our country’s motto – E Pluribus, Unum – is printed on our nation’s seal, meaning “Out of many, one.” To me this motto means that despite the differences in culture, gender, identity, and race that we have, we can all exchange ideas and values to form the true American dream: one of unity in diversity, not discrimination and division. Anti-LGBTQ+ and book ban bills look this dream of unity and prosperity in the eye and spit in its face.

To the legislators who worry so deeply about topics such as what our children read, I ask that you help create a nation where young Americans have the time to read in the first place. Thousands of young people across the country work, attend school, and provide for their families, all while dealing with infrastructure and transportation issues and grappling with their own health concerns. With divisive legislation such as anti-LGBTQ+ bills and book bans, not only are crucial funds being needlessly redirected and funneled into efforts that further divide our country, but also environments like libraries which thousands upon thousands of students consider a sanctuary are being molded into yet another place that diverse youth are not welcome in.

To legislators who say they care about our nation’s young people yet continue to choose to ban books; censor our teachers; and push hateful bills that target marginalized communities, you are acting directly in contradiction to the cause you claim to care so much about. These bills calling for discrimination and censorship are not protecting anyone. They are simply spreading fear. Fear that we must hide our true selves. Fear that we are not safe in our own classrooms. Fear that the supportive adults in our lives, be they our teachers or our librarians, will be punished for simply doing their jobs to teach and nurture us. If you truly care about American students, show us by directly addressing the dire issues so many currently face. These issues include but are not limited to widespread poverty, opportunity disparities between rural and urban areas, the need for stronger mental health support, crumbling school infrastructure, and so much more.

In order to truly create a nation where young people of all backgrounds can thrive, we must use federal, state, and local funds to guarantee that our youth will be able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. This means focusing on three core principles: academic, physical, and mental well-being. 

With increased funding for American public schools, we can provide a wider variety of study materials, including textbooks, study guides, and more resources for students of all income levels to ensure they have a bright future ahead of them, no matter the path or career choice they choose to go through with along with resources to financially support them throughout their journeys. 

Physically, so many Americans cannot rely on public transportation to get from place to place due to factors such as overcrowding and inaccessibility due to distance from said transportation infrastructure. Increased funding for transportation improvement would enable not just young people, but all sorts of Americans to take advantage of an entirely new world of opportunity. 

Mental health care is important for all, but an especially important topic for legislators to focus on amidst the present youth mental health crisis. Redirecting funding will help our country provide crucial resources and launch initiatives that work towards setting up our young people for success not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term.

Education is a fundamental part of the lives of our young people, and to truly allow them to grow into themselves, become knowledgeable citizens, and be responsible with how they handle the world of tomorrow, we must give youth a full, unbiased view of the world. By proxy, we must respect the fundamental right and duty our librarians have to teach the truth and the whole truth, and not just allow but encourage them to continue to carry out the incredible service they provide to our society; creating scholarly havens that are safe for all. 

Diversity – not only racially and ethnically – but also in terms of gender and sexuality, is everywhere and is simply a part of daily life. Our classrooms, our libraries, and our books must reflect that. If we aim to create inclusive and healthy learning environments, we must stop wasting our time with discriminatory bills so that we can truly work towards creating a nation where all can succeed without having to worry about feeling unsafe about something as simple as their identity.

To legislators: you cannot sit back and allow for the implementation of hostility and ignorance in our younger generations. To young people: know that we have the power to create change. Though you may not have been told so, you are a foremost expert in the field of American education. The decisions our legislators make directly affect your life, and as such, you have a fundamental, irrevocable right to speak your mind and raise your voice about what you wish to see in your school. As activist Howard Zinn once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Don’t be afraid to speak up about the issues you and your classmates face. Your advocacy, whether on an individual or organizational level, is what is actively helping our country better serve our young people every day.

Our youth will inherit this world. Let us lay a foundation of inclusivity and unity, not spite and division. If we wish to see a better tomorrow, we must create spaces where all can thrive. Young people: be not afraid to speak out against threats to your safety such as anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and book bans. No matter what some have made you think, you have a right to speak out, especially when it comes to the education that plays such a fundamental part in your life. Your perspective is key to building that prosperous tomorrow in which all have a seat at the table and in which all have their right to quality public education fully honored. Only then, when that prosperous tomorrow dawns, will we truly be able to flaunt the motto, “E Pluribus, Unum.” “Out of Many, One.”