Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Public Good

The narrowing conduit of online information rarely offers much more than amusement or duplicitous thought but on occasion it surprises me with a carefully articulated statement that gives me pause.  Such was the case with something I read back in December.  It contains echoes of what any decent well informed teacher might say.   

While I stumbled across it back in December, I must have at some point thought it useful, as while cleaning out my E-mail drafts this week, there it was.  I had apparently pasted the text there in an effort to reference it later.  It was dated December 17th, three days after the events in Newtown.

The full post was title "The Everyday Heroism of Our Nation's teachers" by Jessie B. Ramey.   I recall thinking differently about the post at the time but the part that gave me pause more than a month later was this exerpt:

"When I look at our public schools, I do not see a security crisis (though surely schools ought to have a security plan and follow it). I do not see a crisis of bad teaching (though we surely ought to be offering “bad” teachers some assistance, and helping others to exit the profession when teaching is not their right life choice). I do not see a crisis of radical teachers or greedy teachers unions.

We surely have a crisis of gun control and mental health services in this country. But the real crisis in public education is about a lost belief in the public good. It’s a crisis of faith in the common good served by our schools. The forces of privatization feed on that lost faith, insisting that we close more neighborhood schools and hand others over to charter management companies, that we introduce more competition and choice, that we hold teachers and schools “accountable” for low student test scores by punishing them. It’s that lost faith that allows legislators to slash education budgets and forces school districts to eliminate music and library programs for our kids. When we stop believing in public education as a public good, we allow our public tax dollars to flow to private schools and giant international corporations while we demand more and more tests without asking if our students are really learning anything.

When I look at our schools, I see teachers heroically trying to teach our students – without the resources they need, with mind-numbing canned curricula and prepping for high-stakes testing forced upon them, in classrooms with ever larger numbers of kids." 

Well said Jessie. 

On my later reading I took her comments a bit out of context.   It affects the message of what the author intended.  But that phrase public good called out to me both times.  The concept of public good seems lost in the debate about education reform(and arguably much else).  Private interests seem to be pushing us to look right past one of the main aspects of our entire education system.  The fact that it is public.  That ought to mean something.

Public schools have grown into one of most important public institutions.  They are a reflection of our local communities and enrich them in countless ways.  The same is true of private and religious schools.  This Public Good is a pillar of democracy.  Public schools, public parks, public libraries, public museums, public hospitals, public colleges, are all struggling to maintain quality as government finances are strained.  

George Mead once said
"To be interested in the public good we must be disinterested, that is, not interested in goods in which our personal selves are wrapped up."  

Adam Smith would disagree.  But surely they'd find common ground on the concept of the mutual benefit to society of certain public institutions.  I don't know that I'd go farther than Mead and say something like teachers don't care about money, but I would strongly suggest that many of the forces driving the dialogue affecting the public good, our schools are motivated by something far from a common good.  Headed by selfish groups, not moral individuals, they see schools as an untapped source of revenue and money.   Even in public/private partnerships they seek to cash in on the declining of support for public goods and substitute their interests for our own.  The growing tide where people seek private alternatives for schools, hospitals and the like is a bad sign.  But our civic institutions should not be for sale.  

Our schools and the public good should not be proprietary.  They are OUR schools after all and no one should own them.  Public monies intended to serve the public good should not be diverted to private entities seeking to benefit from this deterioration.    It is often  appropriate to pay a private company to perform work or provide services that benefit the public.  But privatizing public schools strays far from that.  The practice threatens to degrade one of our most important social institutions in the name of profit.   The social fabrics woven together in a local school are essential for a functioning democracy.    Jumping ship and abandoning the schools in favor of digital substitutes, networked classrooms or corporate managed testing plants is an abrupt and seismic change.  

The combined effort of private profit driven groups and ill-informed reformers are re-shaping the way we prepare our children for the future.  They advocate teaching in a manner that does little for the public and much for themselves.   The Common Core illustrates this point.  Not because the standards are necessarily bad.  But ask where the push is coming from.  Is it the public?  Or groups that would benefit from having one set of standards across the nation?   That could be measured with one test.  Taught with one set of curriculum materials.  They insert themselves and remove society as a whole from directing our public schools.  Marketing this cause undermines public support for schools, and potentially,  a school's ability to function and serve, you guessed it, the public good. 

 Any school that doesn't adapt and change amidst the revolutionary changes of the 21st century is indeed ill performing.  But that is a far cry from justifying the school closing, online course laden,  charter pushing, part time teacher exclusionary educational world being crafted in the wake of such change.  If we indeed are indeed to succeed together in the future we need leaders who have not forgotten the value of the public good.  We further need those that willing to 

No comments:

Post a Comment