By Robert Pondiscio, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Robert Pondiscio is a former fifth grade teacher and the executive director of Citizenship First, a civic education organization based at Harlem's Democracy Prep Public Schools.
(CNN) -- When you're chowing down on hot dogs and hamburgers on this most patriotic of national holidays, try this experiment: Ask your friends and neighbors across the picnic table why they send their kids to school.
Chances are good that nearly everyone you ask will give an answer that reveals a private, dollars-and-cents view of education. We want to see our kids go to college, get good jobs, earn a decent living and make something of themselves.
We send our kids to school and hope they grow up to lead happy, productive lives, and with luck wind up a little better off than their parents. For most of us, education is the engine of upward mobility. These private aspirations are as American as apple pie.
But we send kids to school not just to become employees and entrepreneurs, but citizens capable of wise and effective self-government in our democracy. This public dimension of schooling was a founding principle of American education. We have all but forgotten it in the current era of education overhaul.
(CNN) - A college's mascot is one of the best known, most beloved figures on campus. The thing is, for the students behind the mascots, it's a secret. They can't tell anybody.
Georgia Tech's Buzz is his own bee, his own personality - not the one of the student inside - and like many schools, they try to keep the personalities separate.
"For the most part, we can lie our way our way through," one Buzz said. "Just lie on top of lie on top of lie."
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Editor's note: Tererai Trent is a humanitarian, scholar and speaker. She grew up in rural Zimbabwe, unable to attend school until Heifer International helped her get an education. She now has three degrees, and is founder of Tinogona Foundation.
(CNN) - Eight-year-old Tineyi takes my hand and leads me into her mud-thatched hut in my home village of Matau in rural Zimbabwe. There, in a dark corner of the room, is a wooden bookshelf. Carefully crafted by her father, it protects her word-filled treasures from the smoky fire inside the small hut where her mother cooks. I smile, knowing that her father has recognized the value these books will bring to his little bookworm - a life ahead of her with limitless opportunities.
It was not a life intended for many girls in Africa. As a cattle-herding tomboy, I was bound to follow in the footsteps of generations of women before me: early marriage, illiteracy and poverty. Back then, most kids in my village never had a chance to attend pre-school because it didn't exist. Instead, we would spend hours chasing birds and monkeys from our parents' fields.
That was more than 40 years ago.
Today, change is happening in my beloved Matau, and all across the long red dirt roads, verdant mountains and open blue skies of Africa. The leaders of African countries have made education more of a priority, even for girls. Now, girls can be role models. Girls like me, a cattle herder who married young, and by age 18 had three children and no high school diploma. But I defied the odds, got an education and came back to build a school.