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Happy holidays to all of you!

We usher out a tumultuous, rather gloomy, conflict-ridden and a somewhat alarming 2009. It was a year driven by an unstable economy, uncertain resolutions to threatening social conditions, war-ravaged nations, continued battles against threats of terrorism and a disheartening downright disrespectful and vile tone to our national and personal rhetoric.

We are indeed a nation in need of serious and healthy reflection coupled with a nonpartisan path to corrective action. The divisions within our free society are begging for repair.

Recovery can be defined and promoted in many ways. But many of those charged with the responsibility of leading us have lost their way. There is always hope and please listen — the correction and answers depend on an immediate, sustained and long-term commitment to education. Health care, economic stimulus and global warming are certainly deserving of our national attention, but not at the exclusion of education as a paramount concern.

The people whose voices we need to listen to must change. Respectfully, let it be said that legislators are not in a position or inclined to be responsible for the direction required (for a number of reasons that cannot be adequately addressed this week).

So, to whom do we listen? A new voice has been added to recognized business leaders Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and others whose recognition for school restructuring in our country is unfazed by politics and interest groups. Peter G. Peterson, recently retired as a founder of the Blackstone Group, determined that he needed to find purpose in his diminished daily agenda. Peterson found himself with billions of dollars to resource and excite his joyless retirement. What worthy cause could he target to find pleasure, to do good and renew his energy? After considerable discussion with others and personal reflection, he discovered that he and most Americans to whom he spoke believed that on our current course, for the first time, our children will not do as well as we have in their lives — thus, the basis of the Peterson Foundation.

Peterson, who also served on the Council of Economic Advisors under President Nixon, states, “Our children are unrepresented. The future is unrepresented. The moment is overdue for us to become moral and worthy ancestors.”

He sees an urgency to focus on America’s key “sustainability issues” by influencing a drastic reordering of spending and borrowing policies and priorities — education being a vital “sustainability issue” and priority which is critical to an unthreatened future for our kids. Reckless deficit spending must be checked to relieve the burden of debt from our young people’s future agenda.

Peterson characterizes our political leaders as “co-conspirators and enablers in a disingenuous (word of the week) and greedy silence” toward the essentials of preserving the American Way. Read Peterson’s memoir, “The Educations of an American Dreamer,” just published (and look for an active plan from the Peterson Foundation).

Education reform or focus is not just an issue in our country. Throughout our world battlegrounds, children are denied education as they are unable to access schools without dodging a crossfire of bullets, fearing a bomb explosion or for just being a female.

Greg Martenson is not just another voice, but a dedicated educational activist. He has dedicated himself to promoting community-based literacy programs and building schools in the most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially to promote education for young girls.

He has a new book that captures how we might change the way we think to improve our contributions to this most volatile region of the world. “Stones into Schools” is a most revealing and inspirational story of a remarkable man and his humanitarian crusade.

Martenson conducts a “Pennies for Peace” campaign among American educators and students suggesting “a penny buys a pencil and gives a child (in one of his schools) hope.”

As an ending to this week’s column, reflect on a couple of Martenson quotes:

“We can promote peace and combat terrorism with books, not bombs. The Taliban may fear the pen more than the bullet because once kids are educated they may lose ideological control.”

Also, “The real enemy in explosive areas of the world is ignorance, because ignorance breeds hatred. The most important thing we can do to bring peace is promote education.”

“May there be peace on earth and good will toward men.”

Tom Casey is a retired high school administrator. In retirement he has served as a school administrative mentor, consultant to public and charter schools, and in school-to-career programs. He has also served in various interim administrative positions.