Public schools are a cornerstone of our communities, and help to shore up our society as a whole. Public Schools Week 2019 (March 25th to 29th) is seeking to spread that love and say it proudly. The week is almost over, but that’s no reason to either forget how important our schools are or that we need to protect them.
It’s sad that we would even need to defend the importance of our schools by designating a special week or come to the defense of our children’s schools at all. Over the last decade, unions have been weakened, the working class has been oppressed, and policymakers are now outright antagonistic (if not apathetic) to the cause of the actual public and its schools. Current Education Secretary Betsy Devos has demonstrated the willingness to cut education budgets, programs for needy children, and teacher training in order to fund a push for more charter schools.
I am not opposed to either school choice or a charter approach, but…
Where these movements have gone wrong is in the dishonesty of the narrative. It is always big winners in the “free market” who define the parameters and shape the execution of choices for those below, and as part of the establishment, they are highly unlikely to allow disruption of their comfortable existence. They hire (aka “elect” or appoint) a protected elite to sell a “choice” lottery to those below who may or may not have the opportunity to even play in that lottery. Instead of a discussion about the greater moral obligation to appropriately educate all children, education is turned into a commodity largely controlled by those above. It’s packaged as a product whose worth will supposedly be demonstrated by the customer base it attracts from below, and all the while knowing that those filtered out of or kept away from these choices will always have their underfunded, neglected and disrespected local school to fall back on.
The new “public option”
Why should a family have to leave their underfunded school to take their chances in the school choice lottery system? And just because one parent has been satisfied, the more specific needs of one child has been met, and just because there is the appearance of more freedom and gain through some selectively chosen exemplars in a market of choice, it does not mean the public, as a whole, wins. In fact, in the way that I just described, it is a conquer and divide approach from a ruling class designed to undercut the unity of the groups below them.
What if, instead, the “charter” mindset was kept within the public’s control and in the hands of the experts-the educators? That was, in fact, the original charter concept.
Teams of teachers had considerable say in how the school was run. They made critical decisions about what and how to teach and stayed with each class of students for six years. And unlike most German schools, which are rigidly tracked, the Cologne school had students with a mix of abilities, family incomes and ethnic origins.” (The Original Charter School Vision, N.Y. Times, August, 2014)
This is what “public” looks like and works like.
It’s how “the public good” is operationalized. It also sounds exactly like the kind of powerful, organic threat to corruption our politicians have their knickers in a twist over these days, as evidenced by their reaction to outspoken and dynamic new leaders emerging from below in their ranks.
Republican policies can be openly, almost proudly destructive when it comes to the public good. Democrats are no true advocates lately, despite being sold to the party by union leadership over and over again. Even Mr. Hope and Change, President Obama, needs to take some of the blame. He and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan did more damage to public schools than I could have imagined when I pulled the lever for him on his first round. Sure, he delivered it all with a smile, a bit of charm, and a short run of some smooth Al Green, but he was a force of destruction for our public schools.
When the populace is educated, it understands its civic duty to move collectively for change. The benefit, then, is widespread. The economy, cohesiveness within the society, and character of the nation all benefit. Our public schools are ours. They exist for the good of all. This is why I think we all need to be solidly behind our public schools.
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