During Day Two of the 2017 NEA Representative Assembly, LeVar Burton, host of the long-running PBS children’s series, “Reading Rainbow,” and well known actor, director, and author, received NEA’s highest honor, the Friend of Education Award.
“I believe that what you have to offer is essential to this nation,” Burton told the assembly of more than 7,500 teachers, education support professionals (ESP), professors, and other delegates gathered in Boston. “And our desire to lead the world in any meaningful manner depends on you.”
Alluding to budget cuts and the threat of privatizing school services, Burton stressed the importance of adequately funding the nation’s public school education system.
“Without you, we go nowhere,” said Burton, “Unless we support you, we don’t get this job done.”
Burton first gained popularity playing the character Kunta Kinte in the award-winning 1977 television mini-series “Roots,” and later as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Mom Was a Teacher
Burton credited his mother, an English teacher and single parent, with instilling in him at an early age a profound love for reading.
“I’m the man I am because she is the woman she is: My first teacher and an avid reader,” he said. “She not only read to me she read in front of me.”
Acknowledging the struggle he endured “because of the color of my skin,” Burton said, “it was my mother who poured into me everything good and positive.”
“She provided me with the best weapon she could,” he added.” And that was a quality education.”
The Politics of Education
“I am not a fan of Betsy DeVos (U.S. Secretary of Education),” Burton said. “Nor her intended policies or intentions for the education system in this country.”
Lamenting the lack of respect for teachers and other educators from policymakers like DeVos, Burton said he was baffled by “the thinking of this administration on a lot of issues.”
“The last thing I believe that we should be doing is taking money from the already strapped public education sector and use it to fund essentially private institutions that aren’t beholden to the rules, the regulations, and the transparency we have come to expect in this country,” he said.
DeVos’ inexperience and connections to the student-loan industry “makes people very skeptical that government is really working for them,” he added.
Burton said he once believed that the No Child Left Behind Act (replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act), was the most “ill-advised government policy in the history of government policies, but I was wrong because Betsy wants to take it one step further (through privatization).”
Watch live as Friend of Education, LeVar Burton addresses the 2017 Representative Assembly.
Posted by NEA Today on Monday, July 3, 2017