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Education as the “Great Equalizer”? Renewing our Commitment to the Balance Wheel

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  • Adele H. Stamp Student Union, and Online
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More than 150 years ago, Horace Mann, the 19th century champion of publicly funded universal education, argued that education is “is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance wheel of the social machinery.” While his words were shaped by the context of the time, Mann’s recognition that an educated and engaged populous is essential for our individual and collective well-being remains true today. The central idea behind Mann’s balance wheel metaphor is that equal opportunity to acquire a quality education is a prerequisite for equal opportunity to participate in our political, civic, and economic institutions—and that the welfare of a democratic society depends on broad participation in those institutions. While much progress has been made in establishing and supporting a universal educational system in the U.S., substantial disparities in educational resources, opportunities, and outcomes persist. These educational disparities – too often correlated with race, ethnicity, and economic background – continue to undermine the potential of education to serve as “the great equalizer.” In fact, our system of public education has often functioned as a fundamental source of structural inequality in the U.S., with impacts felt by individuals, communities, and our society as a whole. This lecture focuses on why our educational systems perpetuate inequality, how disparities in educational opportunities negatively impact individuals and the collective good, and what policies and resources are required to ensure equal opportunity for all. The estimated returns on investing in education—and the estimated costs of not doing so—provide strong evidence supporting public investment in universal education. Perhaps even more compelling are the implications for democracy—and the moral and ethical imperatives of a just society.


Adele H. Stamp Student Union

3972 Campus Drive

College Park, MD 20742

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Baha'i Chair for World Peace

For disability accommodations, please contact Bahai Chair at

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