Putting the Public Back in Public Education
What it would take to ensure that nobody’s child is left behind
Image by istockphoto.com/Luseen
This article is one of several on fixing education. For more, read The People’s Professor, America 101, and the online exclusive Educational Success: Stories of Innovation from the Utne Library.
The public schools have been bad and they deserve to be punished.
That’s the mantra Americans have heard for the past eight years as politicians have scrambled to appease citizens battered by apocalyptic headlines about the state of the educational system, stories that detail how public schools are both epic disasters and the country’s only ticket out of global decline, increasing poverty, and a coming society of dimwits.
And how did an administration hell-bent on warding off any responsibility for its own actions (torture, irresponsible war, a gutter-dwelling economy) react? They’ve assured us that failing schools will be held accountable. They transformed our society’s greatest obligation into its greatest sin.
In 2002, with support from both sides of the congressional aisle, President Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind, federal legislation designed to punish schools into delivering higher test scores. Reformers jumped on the accountability bandwagon, brandishing the joys of abandoning the public schools through homeschooling or providing families with government-funded vouchers for private schools.
The public and its politicians have spent so much time placing blame on unyielding teachers’ unions, stagnant administrative bureaucracies, and mind-numbing curricula that we’ve neglected to reflect on our own role in the problem. Americans need to reinvest, and not just by pouring more money into “the system.” Citizens need to rededicate themselves to the promise of public education, a tradition founded on the ideals of educating every child, unifying a country that’s been diverse since its inception, and instilling the civic-mindedness required of citizens in a healthy democracy (see “America 101”).
So what can our elected representatives do to help turn the tide? A good start would be simply sending their children to public school. In 2007 a Heritage Foundation survey found that, while just 12 percent of American students attend private schools, 37 percent of U.S. representatives and 45 percent of U.S. senators have bailed out on public education and sent their kids to private schools.
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