Education For Everyone: In Defense Of `Government Schools'
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 11, 2016 at 10:22:14 AM EST

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a story about a trend among far-right conservatives in Kansas who call public schools "government schools."

The idea is that a shift in terminology will change opinions. After all, to many people, "public" equals good, while "government" equals bad.

As Erica Massman, a moderate Republican, told The Times, "They are trying to rebrand public education."


Yes, they are. And it's actually not a new thing. I've been hearing the phrase "government schools" since the early 1990s. Back then, it was mainly used by extreme libertarians who believe that pretty much anything the government does is wrong. (These are the same people who want to sell off the national parks.)

They also had a tendency to use the term "educrats," a word they made up, to describe the men and women who work in our public schools. Again, the idea was to slime the entire system.

This type of rhetoric annoyed me for several reasons. It wasn't just because there were public school teachers in my family and I knew how hard they worked or that I had attended public schools myself and years later could still reel off the names of teachers who made a real difference in my life. What really got me was a simple figure: 90 percent.

That is the percentage of Americans who send their children to public schools. Consider it again: 90 percent. That number has remained constant over many years. It has stayed at 90 percent despite all of the attacks on public education by the far right, despite the claims that our schools are "godless" and hostile to Christianity, despite the efforts by advocates of vouchers and the forces of privatization.

That figure of 90 percent tells us that most Americans rely on public schools. They want them and need them. In fact, in many communities, public schools are considered essential. People clamor to live in areas with good, well-funded public schools. Property values rise in such places.

Yet there are people today who would blithely toss the public school system aside in the name of ideology, religion or some misguided combination of both.

One key part of their strategy is simply to lie. Over and over again, they assert that the public schools have failed, that the system is falling apart and that some kind of radical change is needed.

In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., takes issue with this narrative. Schneider notes that yes, public education in some parts of the country is troubled (often in areas marked by poverty). But he also notes that our public schools are today better than at any point in the past. (Consider just one metric: high school graduation rates. In 2013-14, 82 percent of high school students graduated. In 1950, that number was 58 percent. Is there room for improvement? You bet. But that number is an all-time high.)

Schneider and other commentators have also pointed out that the United States is trying to do something unprecedented and unique: make education available to all in a sprawling nation of many different types of people.

"The evolution of America's school system has been slow," he wrote. "But providing a first-rate public education to every child in the country is a monumental task. Today, 50 million U.S. students attend roughly 100,000 schools, and are educated by over 3 million teachers. The scale alone is overwhelming. And the aim of schooling is equally ambitious. Educators are not just designing gadgets or building websites. At this phenomenal scale, they are trying to make people - a fantastically difficult task for which there is no quick fix, no simple solution, no `hack.'"

In his conclusion, Schneider asks, "Can the schools do more to realize national ideals around equity and inclusion? Without question. But none of these aims will be achieved by ripping the system apart. That's a ruinous fiction. The struggle to create great schools for all young people demands swift justice and steady effort, not melodrama and magical thinking."

Most importantly, this effort demands support from political leaders. Unfortunately, in Kansas and other states, not only is this support lacking, the public schools are getting heaps of derision instead.

 





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by white suburban and rural Kansasans - football! other sports! social focus for rural areas!
The fool separatist Christian homeschoolers will field a winning football team when Hell freezes over. I can pretty much guarantee that only a few percent of the population would be willing to socialize with separatist Christian homeschooler families. Purity movements by nature cannot become mass-market movements without giving up their self-conceived exclusitivity.

by NancyP on Mon Jul 11, 2016 at 12:10:51 PM EST
But that's why the Good Christian colleges and Universities are working so hard to set up sports programs.  Even the Christian high schools around here brag about their sports teams.  Plus, as I understand it, Good Christian homeschoolers are supposed  to send their children to a Good Christian High School to be 'finished' - where they get their intro to sports (and there are  the church teams).  Maybe this is some more of that alternate economy that Dogemperor researched?

Funny thing - lately a couple of people have been maintaining that sports were on a par with religion as a driving factor in American society.  I could care less about sports, so the idea seems a bit strange to me - that it could be that important.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jul 12, 2016 at 12:48:06 AM EST
Parent



Yes sports/music/socialization are important parts of public education - but there real value is in the inclusiveness - it is in the public schools where America becomes the "melting pot" and where language - culture - friendships develop. There will always be room for alternative schools - for special opportunities - be they for special need students - for exceptionally gifted - or for families who desire a more focused (often religious based) education for their family. I believe the hostility to public education is largely a matter of educations funding - often it is based on property tax rates - leaving the wealthy and the landlords to pay larger portions of the costs. Since those costs are passed along to renters - no one gets a "free ride", but if they honestly based their arguments on their desire to not pay their fair share - or should they legitimately work for even a more balanced and perhaps national not strictly local tax base for education the debate would be more productive.

by chaplain on Tue Jul 12, 2016 at 11:18:42 AM EST
The churches have been trying to destroy the Public Schools for generations - I've read the articles and some of the actual language used over the years (over a century according to my memory) and they didn't like the "socialism" - but in reality they wanted a captive audience for their preaching and proselytizing and government support of their form of Christianity.  The opposition to public schools was NOT so much education funding as religious opposition to children learning something that contradicted what the preachers spouted.  If anything, they didn't want tax money going to a source that disproved their idea of the Bible.  (I vaguely remember reading a number of quotes from preachers to that very effect, dating to the early years of the 20th century.)

I've also read about hostility during the same period to RC church schools and Jewish schools.  That reflects the desire to dominate and try to convert people.  It's OK for Christian schools (by their definition) but nothing for anyone else.  If you read what HAD been happening since then (and the resulting lawsuits), it was because they were funneling tax money toward Christian indoctrination sources rather than religiously neutral education.  That is why we have such hostility today towards the public schools, not because they're somehow failures (they aren't), but because they teach things like evolution, critical thinking, history (rather than propaganda), and the value of non-Christian peoples, thinking, and cultures, plus tolerance to difference.  All are anathema to fundamentalists because it calls the source of their authority into question!

As far as sports - lots of money there, and the churches involved, well, greed is a central part of their makeup (the proseperity gospel!).  So the discussion of Sports is valid in the discussion of public education.  The local "Bible College" (aka ersatz university) has sports teams now and brags about them - something they openly sneered at a few years ago (except for the "ministries" designed and meant to suck people in - I was active in one of those years ago, back in my Assemblies of God days).  They also solicit donors and supporters of the teams for money.  I guess guilt-tripping people isn't as effective as it used to be (in their eyes).  So they look for those addicted to sports to increase their bottom line.

BTW - there has been a constant battle to make the poor support the government and the schools and to cut taxes for the rich.  The rich don't just pass it along - THEY are the ones who are getting a free ride and want more-more-more (pure unfettered greed).  The most recent information I heard, in this country, the 1% own more resources than the 99% (new figures).  It wasn't that long ago that it was something like 1% owning more resources than over 80% (I'd have to check my notes and the journal articles for the values over time).  That indicates that all of the wealth is being pumped out of the 99% and to the 1% - and they're keeping it for themselves only.  They'll not allow a more balanced or equitable system because they're in power.  Thus, they must be FORCED to be less greedy.  Part of the way they gained their power is their propaganda regarding capitalism - the fact they don't want people to realize is that the present hell-on-earth (for a lot of people) is the result of unregulated, unlimited, and undertaxed (the rich) capitalism.


by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jul 12, 2016 at 01:13:06 PM EST
Parent

Never forget, the Protestant K-12 private school education only became popular after desegregation came to the public schools. The private schools can admit a token black kid per year to keep their non-profit tax exemption. Home schooling is another means for whites to educate their children in a setting without blacks or poor people as peers. The HS white kids might go play Lady Bountiful at a soup kitchen once in a while, but aren't going to be in situations where they are challenged to doubt their status as God's Chosen Rulers over the dark masses.

by NancyP on Tue Jul 12, 2016 at 04:49:27 PM EST
Parent
Well worded and it really did get quite a laugh from me!  Very accurate... I didn't know that about the one minority (black) child per year.  I knew some of the rules were so lax that they were almost a joke, but not that bad.  (I know SOME about education, but that's not an area I've done a lot of reading on.)

There seems to be a lot of people out trolling with the 'racism against whites' battlecry.  The same people go ballistic when you mention white privilege (a demonstrated fact in this country) - I just was told I'd had everything handed to me by one person who denies white privilege.  Well, yeah... pink slips because I didn't "stop doing that heathen stuff" (going to ceremony and tribal activities), bills where they charged me far more than a white person for the same work, and so on.  Along with death threats, accusations of "lying to us about your identity" and so on when I was in business and my customers learned I was really Native American by birth and not white (lost ~61% of my customers in one month).

I even had a neighbor rage at me about how "My taxes are paying for YOUR education".  He didn't hear "Student Loans" which MUST be paid back, or "Fellowship" - which must be won (earned).  To him, I was being given everything and he wanted it stopped and given 'back'  to him.

(Never mind that without a doctorate, there are few jobs I can handle in spite of my limitations.)


by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jul 12, 2016 at 05:15:30 PM EST
Parent






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