Each April, California Masons celebrate public schools. It’s a tradition that’s endured for decades, and one that resonates for educators and students alike.

Among those touched by Masons’ contributions to public education is Delaine Eastin, the former California state superintendent of public instruction and a former state assemblywoman. Eastin grew up with Masonry – both her father and uncles were members of the fraternity – and she was familiar with Masonic values from a young age. “My father was so ethical, centered, and good that I’ve always had a good feeling about the Masons in my heart because of him,” Eastin says.

Though Eastin didn’t come from a wealthy family, education was always a priority. Her father joined the Navy and sacrificed his own college education to allow his elder brother to stay in college. When it was his daughter’s turn, despite social norms that didn’t prioritize women’s education and careers, he was adamant that she have an opportunity to learn and to thrive. “We’ll sell the house if we have to,” Eastin remembers her father saying. “She’s going to Davis.”

Eastin’s father’s dreams were realized as she graduated first with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis and then with a master’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in political science. She taught at community colleges throughout the state before pursuing a highly successful corporate and political career. She won numerous awards and accolades for her four terms in the State Assembly, which were largely focused on improving public education and other social resources. Upon becoming California’s first female state superintendent of public schools Eastin successfully tackled complex issues, including reducing class size, implementing higher quality standards, and harnessing new technology.

“The California State Constitution makes important provisions for public education,” she says. “A lot of politicians and people who are making the laws can forget about this, but the Masons have always made public education a priority. And, in California, I don’t think they’re doing it because of the constitution. Masons do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

Since 1994, when California Masons first learned about the California Teachers of the Year Awards, they have awarded each of the five teachers of the year with a $1,000 check. Recipients are asked to spend the money on themselves, but many use the money to purchase needed supplies for their classrooms. It’s a gesture that has resonated with educators and provided an example for other organizations and corporations to follow suit.

“The first year, it seemed like almost an inconvenience for the teachers to come to Sacramento since it’s far for many of them,” Eastin recalls. “We were just able to offer a brief lunch. But when I proposed setting up a Teacher of the Year Foundation so that we could have a more significant celebration, the Masons were immediately on board to help. Thanks to the Masons and those who have followed them, it has become really meaningful. This year was one of our best – with one teacher’s family flying all the way from Massachusetts to recognize him.” In 2016, in addition to awarding each of the five teachers of the year, the fraternity also presented each of the runners-up with a $250 gift. The logic was simple: They deserve recognition, too. Each teacher who is nominated has demonstrated extraordinary talent for and devotion to teaching California students.

According to Eastin one of the greatest challenges facing public education today is society’s failure to regularly recognize the extraordinary value of talented teachers. “When I was growing up, if you were a woman, becoming a teacher is likely what you did. It was an accomplishment,” Eastin says. “Today, women and men alike say ‘I don’t have to be a teacher’ – the career is looked down upon. But, it’s patriotic to be a teacher. It’s important to the future of the republic that we have great education, and that can only happen through great teachers. No one has celebrated California teachers more in the past 21 years than the Masons.”

And, she adds, “Parents and communities always want to put their money into schools and facilities, and while it’s important to have safe learning spaces, the beauty isn’t as important as what’s inside. I always tell parents: If you have the option to send your child to a beautiful school with lousy teachers, or to Socrates sitting on a rock, go with Socrates and the rock.”

View this and other articles about Freemasonry on freemason.org – home of the California Grand Lodge