Public Education is Not Your Enemy

It has become fashionable to hate everything “public” about public education.  We here at EduSanity believe that this phenomena is due to a number of different reasons and over the next few entries we intend to unpack the reasons why the public is so down on education that bears its name.

Before we can do that however, we must present our common sense case for publicly funded education for all children in this country.  Yes, this includes the children of illegal immigrants.  Yes, this includes the children of the elite. If you are a child in this country, we should all pitch in to pay for your education because at the end of the day, it is in everybody’s best interest.

Ever since the end of World War II this country has found a common distaste for anything resembling communism.  Events like the Red Scare of the 50’s and 60’s, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the nuclear arms race, Vietnam…etc, have posited a deep fear of anything to the left of ardent capitalism among us. Calling somebody or something “communist”, or more recently “socialist” has long been a convenient rhetorical trick to immediately create a negative image in the minds of the American people. Capitalism is great and we believe that despite our problems, the United States is the greatest country on the planet. But the Cold War is over, history has proven communism to be an unreachable goal and totalitarian socialism to be an economic failure.  Why are we still afraid of the socialist boogieman?

If only there were a “socialist” institution that could have prevented this.

But more importantly, why have we forsaken our own republican ideal of liberty and justice for all by refocusing our fear of the “socialist other” on the publicly funded and operated institutions in the United States that provide fundamental services like education?  Let’s go back in time to an America that wasn’t yet afraid of socialism by reading the words of Thomas Jefferson, who in a letter supporting his education bill that would provide publicly supported education to America’s children wrote,

“The object [of my education bill was] to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind which in proportion to our population shall be the double or treble of what it is in most countries.”

We cringe at the thought that the talents and potential of those who might not have the means to access schooling would go to waste if they were arbitrarily left out of our nation’s schools.  If it were not for the public schools that will accept any student living within the geographic boundaries of an attendance area, you can imagine how exacerbated the division between social classes might become. Is that in anybody’s best interest?  How much of a drag on society would a mass of uneducated children become? We cannot allow our schools to become a reflection of a culture based on what’s best for “me” while forsaking thy neighbor and the poor kids down the street.

Granted, the idea of providing education for those who cannot provide for themselves may be considered “socialist” in that resources are redistributed from those who have to those who have not.  However, this idea is also truly republican in nature as well, because the foundation of our society is built upon the principle that power is derived from the people. We return to our nation’s first true Republican, Thomas Jefferson, to support our argument.  It was Jefferson who understood the necessity of educating all those who would be trusted with the office of citizen and would in turn be given the power from which our republican form of government draws.  In his autobiography, Jefferson wrote,

“The less wealthy people,… by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen.”

How can we possibly expect all of our children to become knowledgeable members of society if we do not provide for their education or if we educate them separately from the students whose parents have financial means?

The reality of publicly supported education is the necessity of taxation, and the burden of supporting education in the United States falls primarily to those who own property.  Ironically, those who own property are also more likely to have the means to send their children to private schools, yet they do not have a choice on where their tax money is spent.  That said, public education is not the only tax supported service provided by the government that we cannot opt out of.  There is no option in the United States to receive a “roads voucher” if you don’t own a car, or a “military voucher” if you don’t believe in war, or a “fire voucher” if you decide you’ll extinguish your own house if it catches on fire.  And the reason why you cannot opt out of these publicly funded services is because we all need them.  We need roads, we need a formidable military, we need fire and police protection, and if we had the choice to opt out of them because we felt (foolishly) like we didn’t need them, the infrastructure of this country would disintegrate.

Public education is no different.  You may not like how we educate our students publicly in this country, but keep in mind that there has been, under primarily a system of public education since the mid 1850’s, no more impressive country in the world than the one in which we currently live. Public education is the single greatest thing this country has ever attempted to do. Public education is necessary to protect our interests abroad and to protect us from ourselves.

We dislike paying taxes as much as anybody, but when we reach for our checkbooks (do people still use those?) we console ourselves with one more bit of wisdom from T.J. who reminds us that,

“The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”

Americans, no matter whether they fall in the 1% or the other 99%, need public education in this country.  Educating all of our citizens is vital to the prosperity of our country and security of our democracy, and the only way we can make sure that we educate every single child in America is to bite that “socialist” bullet and allocate resources for great public schools. Thomas Jefferson may not have been afraid of the socialist boogieman, but he was rightfully afraid of his own government.  We guess it should come as no surprise that the system of public education Jefferson envisioned as a protection against the tyranny of government has now fallen prey to the most tyrannical federal attack in our nation’s history.  But don’t worry, the marauders aren’t socialists.

 

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suggested citation:
Endacott, J., & Goering, C.Z. (2012, September 7). Public education is not your enemy. EduSanity. Retrieved from http://www.edusanity.com/2012/09/07/public-educati…not-your-enemy/

 

Restoring EduSanity

There seems to be a serious lack of sanity in the education discussion these days. The past ten years of the NCLB era have witnessed a refocusing of American determination to once again be on top of the world when it comes to educating our future workforce.  This is certainly not the first time that we have turned the microscope on public education, as we tend to ratchet up scrutiny whenever the U.S. is viewed as slipping from the top spot in the industrialized world (e.g. the Soviet’s launch of Sputnik or the Japanese dominance of the electronics industry in the 1980’s).  Unfortunately, this time we have managed to lose almost all sense of perspective as the conversation about public education in the United States; productive conversations have been replaced with mud-slinging shouting matches.

It is hard not to notice that public education has been invaded by non-educators from around the country who were nowhere to be found when the quality of a student’s education was understood to be the complex and multifaceted endeavor that it truly is. However, now that educational success has been redefined by politicians as a series of easily measured test scores, public education has become the target of economists, entrepreneurs, think tanks, bureaucrats, and members of the public who have jumped at the opportunity to introduce narrowly focused “reforms” with the sole purpose of increasing test scores. These newly self-anointed “experts” have gained a lot of traction in the public sphere by using ambiguous yet seductive words such as “rigor” and “accountability” to oversimplify, privatize, and politicize the formative years of our nation’s youth. Our children’s education has been reduced to an easily understood metric that can be neatly graphed in the local newspaper and touted or decried by politicians but has very little meaning in the world outside the classroom. How sad.

The status quo is not acceptable either, and it is undeniably true that America’s educational system is in need of improvement.  This has been the case since the first hornbook was used in the first one-room schoolhouse in the first American colony, and if we are to move forward, it should always be the case. Education isn’t a sprint, a race, or even a marathon because there is no finish line that signifies the end of learning in either victory or defeat. That our current educational focus can be summed up with the rhetorical tag line of “Race to the Top,” is unfortunate because it perpetuates the misconception that educating children is a competition that can somehow be won. What happens to the losers of the race?

Of course, not everybody has bought into this modern wave of reform, and many of the holdouts are public educators who recognize that education cannot be simplified as the public has been misled to believe. These educators (authors of this essay included) have pushed back against the tide of misguided reform, resulting in an “us vs. them” mentality usually reserved for the bickering on cable news networks and the halls of Congress. The debate over education is currently framed as the “us”, or every blue-blooded American who favors better schools, rigor, and achievement, against the “them”, otherwise known as anybody who can be portrayed as standing in the way of this very particular brand of progress. And full advantage of this discord has been taken by many politicians and well-financed edu-mouthpieces who have convinced Americans that public educators belong squarely in the “them” category.  When real teachers resist the reforms they believe to be wrong, they are characterized as trying to protect the status quo and standing in the way of progress. We’ll admit there are a few teachers determined to do that, though they are vastly outnumbered by those who resist shortsighted reform efforts for the right reasons. Despite this, it has become fashionable to demonize all things “public” about public education and all too often, attempts at “education reform” are revealed to be little more than thinly veiled efforts to undermine districts, schools, teachers, and by default, even the very students in the classrooms.

EduSanity fears that the characterization of public educators as the enemy of progress combined with a single-minded approach to evaluating the education of young people could have catastrophic consequences.  We will use this platform to call attention to the many issues assaulting American education today, primarily the issues brought forth from outside of the classrooms, issues we consider to be antagonistic attacks on the sanity of education. There are too few voices in the dialogue about public education that are broadly focused, rational, well-informed by various ways of knowing, and truly concerned with making progress in helping our students prepare for life on a local, national and global scale. We aren’t the first to call attention to these issues, but we are in a unique position to use our experience and perspective on educating students to raise a voice of sanity in a country that has lost its EduSanity.

Our mission is to ask questions of current practice and policy and to provide a venue to discuss controversial issues.  We believe that our children are not numbers and that their (and thus our country’s) future should never be for sale, yet we fear that the sign has already been posted in the proverbial front yard of our schools.  We endeavor to support those who have not been buried by the educational antagonism tidal wave of the last decade and to use our voice in opposition of those who we believe have lost their EduSanity, whether they are well-meaning or not.

We welcome your ideas, comments and your criticisms.  It is past time to look critically at the current wave of short-sighted reform by telling the counter-stories and addressing the issues currently underrepresented.

If you want to follow us on Twitter or find our page on Facebook by using the links on the top of the page we will let you know when we’ve tried to restore EduSanity to another issue.

 

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suggested citation:
Endacott, J., & Goering, C.Z. (2012, August 30). Restoring edusanity. EduSanity. Retrieved from http://www.edusanity.com/2012/08/30/restoring-edusanity/