2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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"I Was a Nobody"

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Congressman Charles B. Rangel

Congressman Charles B. rangel

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"One thing you can never measure is a kid without a dream."  That was how Congressman Charles B. Rangel chose to open a two day symposium packed with statistical measures of the impact of inadequate education on society.

Rangel, the ranking member of the House Ways and means Committee and dean of the New York State Congressional delegation, spoke from personal experience. "I know what it's like not to have an education,"  he said, revealing that he had dropped out of high school in the 1940s. At that time, he said, his worldview was so limited that each day, "I looked up Lenox Hill and didn't know those buildings were City College."

Rangel enlisted in the Army and served in Korea for four years, earning the rank of Sergeant and winning a Purple Heart and a bronze Star. "I had more self-esteem than anyone in the U.S," he said, but added that his bubble burst when he returned to the States: "I was a nobody." It was that realization that led him to finish high school, attend New York University and, ultimately, graduate from St. John's University School of law.

Even then, he could never forget where he came from. Up for a job as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, the future lawmaker was nearly undone when well-meaning friendsand neighbors in Harlem, assuming their old buddy must be on the run, told inquiring agents who were conducting a routine background check that they hadn't seen Rangel for weeks.

Rangel told his audience that failed education policies, and not terrorism or Iraq,  pose the greatest threat to America's national security. "You can't be hopeless and patriotic," he said, adding that "half our youth are unable to volunteer and serve because of a lack of high school education." That lack breeds poverty, he said, and "poverty is an issue this country cannot afford. It's not just a social issue, it's common sense."

Pledging his ongoing support for The Campaign for educational equity, Rangel closed with an exhortation for continued action: "I hope all of us remember this as the day when Teachers College made up your minds that you weren't going to take it anymore."

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