What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.Politics is not the focus of this blog. But politics often invades everything. Over the weekend, Republican candidate for President, Rick Santorum, weighed in on public education:
—John Dewey, educational philosopher, The School and Society, 1907
“Yes the government can help,” Mr. Santorum added. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”While there are some anachronisms in the current system of education -- (to name a few)
Oppel, Richard A. Santorum Questions Education System; Criticizes Obama, NYT February 18, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/us/politics/santorum-criticizes-education-system-and-obama.html
- the requirement that students attend school only nine months a year.
- the idea that education comes in tidy bundles of minutes - Carnegie units
- the idea of school provided one-to-one computing,
The Center on Educational Policy publication, Why We Still Need Public Schools, cites six missions of public education. Our schools:
- Provide universal access to free education.
[T]he fact remains that the whole country is directly interested in the education of every child that lives within its borders. The ignorance of any part of the American people so deeply concerns all the rest that there can be no doubt of the right to pass laws compelling the attendance of every child at school . . .As an online teacher, one of my concerns about the online education programs is that online education can increasingly be privatized. Why is this a concern? Because as people make choices about education, I have seen parents choose an online educational program for their children based not on quality, but on the program that has lesser graduation requirements.
—Frederick Douglass, African American writer and abolitionist, speech at the National Convention of Colored Men, 1883
Local based education makes it possible for states and localities to emphasize local needs. National companies respond to markets. As seen in textbooks, large states like Texas exert a larger power on content. We need to be concerned with all students and their community.
- Guarantee equal opportunities for all children.
Public education has been a path for people of all economic and racial backgrounds out of poverty. Public education makes education a path toward a public good. Public education has provided for people to be successful, to grow, and to even be President. If public education were to give way to private education (even compulsory private education), where you went to school would be of greater importance. Would the "well-off" maintain the equivalent of gated communities in education? I'm not willing to take that chance.
- Unify a diverse population.
The most effectual, and indeed the only effectual, way to produce this individuality and harmony of national feeling and character is to bring our children into the same schools and have them educated together.Today, we have more diversity than ever. Race, income, political views are sources of diversity. In a world torn with ethnic strife, the ability to understand other perspectives and deal with conflict are critical skills. Private schools may actually serve to limit diversity and increase intolerance in the "marketplace of ideas."
—Calvin Stowe, theology professor and abolitionist, Transactions of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Western Literary Institute, 1836
- Prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society.
Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.In the 2008 election, only 50.5% of those without a high school education voted compared to 64% of high school grads, and 81% of those with college degrees.
—Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president, letter to James Madison, 1787
- Prepare people to become economically self-sufficient.
Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance-wheel of the social machinery . . . It does better than disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich; it prevents being poor.Given the concern over the "Occupy" movements and the increasing economic disparity, this goal should be seen as one of the strongest reasons for public education.
—Horace Mann, “father of the common school,” Report no. 12 of the Massachusetts School Board, 1848.
- Improve social conditions.
Fewer pillories and whipping posts and smaller gaols [jails], with their usual expenses and taxes, will be necessary when our youth are properly educated, than at present. I believe it could be proved that the expenses of confining, trying, and executing criminals amount every year, in most of the counties, to more money than would be sufficient to maintain the schools.Mr. Rush's conjecture has recently been the subject of research.
—Benjamin Rush, physician and statesman, Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical, 1786
In 2003, Lochner and Moretti reported:
"Crime is a negative externality with enormous social costs. If education reduces crime, then
schooling will have social benefits that are not taken into account by individuals. In this case, the
social return to education may exceed the private return. Given the large social costs of crime,
even small reductions in crime associated with education may be economically important. . . .
these data sources produce similar conclusions: schooling significantly reduces criminal activity."
So, in a variety of places, we see public education pays both individuals, society, and the community.
These six goals of education still matter.
When asked to choose which reason for public schools seemed most important to them, 25% of Americans participating in a 2006 national poll cited as their top reason “to give all children a chance to get ahead and level the playing field”; 22% said “to keep America strong and competitive in the global economy”; 19% said “to help strengthen our democracy so children will have the skills to participate as adults”; and 16% said “because today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce.” (Other reasons were cited by 10% or less of those polled.) (CEP Report, page 13.)
Our Founding Fathers were among the strongest supporters of public education:
In 1785, John Adams wrote, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
Ben Franklin, in 1749 proposed: "The good education of youth has been esteemed by wise men in all ages, as the surest foundation of the happiness of both private families and of commonwealths. Almost all governments have therefore made it a principal object of their attention, to establish and endow with proper revenues, such seminaries of learning, as might supply the succeeding age with men qualified to serve the publick with honour to themselves, and to their country."
Thomas Jefferson proposed a public school system in Virgina. He added: "The tax which will be paid for the purpose [of education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, and nobles who will rise up if we leave the people in ignorance."
Peggy Zugibe, a member of the Haverstraw-Stony Point (N.Y.) Board of Education stated" "Our public schools have produced presidents, statesmen, scientists, sports and entertainment figures. We can’t let outside forces result in public education becoming a system of haves and have-nots. We must make sure that we remember what our Founding Fathers saw: that public education is essential to our country’s common good."
It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republic of America was practically settled.We can debate the improvements that we need to make to education, by Mr. Santorum, the importance of a free, compulsory, public education is NOT up for discussion.
—James Russell Lowell, poet, editor, and diplomat, Among My Books: Six Essays, 1870.