In the 16th Century the Protestant Reformation, led by John Knox, swept through Scotland.
Knox wanted every person to be able to read the Bible, so he instituted a broad program of public education.
Two hundred years later, three out of four Scotsmen could read and write, making Scotland the most literate nation in Europe.
The result was a flowering of art, science, technology, economics and literature known as the Scottish Enlightenment, with philosopher David Hume, poet Robert Burns, economist Adam Smith and inventor James Watt all living in Edinburgh at the same time.
And that intellectual flowering triggered the industrial revolution that made Britain the greatest empire the world had ever known.
Something similar happened here in the United States in the mid-19th Century, when reformers passed new public education laws making school compulsory through the age of 16.
The result was a highly educated workforce that built the world's biggest economic powerhouse and became the great arsenal of democracy during two world wars.
After World War II we did it again, passing the G.I. Bill of Rights that sent millions of returning vets to college, forming the basis of the Eisenhower '50s, the greatest period of prosperity our country has ever known.
The lesson is clear: Education equals prosperity.
But it's a lesson we have forgotten over the last 50 years. We have allowed our public schools, from kindergarten to college, to whither from lack of funds.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the West Contra Costa Unified School District, where teachers have to pay out of their own pockets for such basics as paper and pencils for their students.
Some people say you can't solve problems by throwing money at them, but public education has been starved for so long, a massive infusion of funds would be a life-saver.
In this political climate, that's not going to happen anytime soon. Until then, private individuals are trying to give the schools emergency transfusions to keep them alive until the public wakes up and forces the politicians to do the right thing.
One such effort is the West Contra Costa Public Education Fund – The Ed. Fund, for short – which bestows small monetary awards on outstanding teachers, staff and volunteers to continue their good work. This year alone it has awarded 77 grants to schools and 75 college scholarships to graduating high school seniors.
This year's awardees are Joshua Hastings, a history teacher at Richmond High; Maria Saxton, a dual immersion teacher at Washington Elementary; Abigail Sims-Evelyn, a history and leadership teacher at LoVonya DeJean Middle School; Tracy Singh-Poole, a special education teacher at DeAnza High; and Todd Groves, volunteer par excellence at El Cerrito High and Portola Middle School.
The awards will be presented May 18 at the Ed. Fund's annual Excellent In Education gala at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. It's the Ed. Fund's major fundraiser of the year.
Tickets are $100 for adults, $75 for WCCUSD teachers and $30 for students. To purchase tickets – or to donate if you can't attend - visit www.edfundwest.org or send a check to The Ed. Fund, 217C W. Richmond Ave., Richmond 94801.
Granted, this is tantamount to slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. But a Band-Aid is better than nothing until we can get the patient to surgery.