“Public Education is DEMOCRACY!”
That is how I finished the prompt on the March for Public Education’s Facebook Group query. (Please join this group of over 13,000 people by clicking the underlined link.)
Yes, all caps are needed. Yes, it warrants an exclamation point. Yes, public education is not just a part of the American democratic system, it the engine of democracy. To further explain, the following are five reasons public education is democracy:
1.Public education is democracy because schools are like the statue of liberty.
Public schools take all kinds of students — black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, poor, rich, special needs, or gifted. Public schools face poverty, mental illness, addiction, neglect, and hunger with warm classrooms led by smiling adults. Like Emma Lazarus’ poem, schools take the tired, the poor, and the wretched refuse, because public schools are open to every resident of the United States of America. Public schools are safe havens for our most vulnerable citizens.
2.Public education is democracy because students learn a standardized education, which promotes equal access to opportunities.
Students in central New York, where I have lived my entire life, are offered a standard curriculum, taught by teachers who hold master’s degrees, earn tenure, and who are allowed to collectively bargain and unionize. The New York State public education system, although not perfect, truly attempts to create a foundation for its residents. I attended four different public school districts, and although the frequent moving was often disruptive socially, the standard curriculum and high quality of learning offered by every one of the school districts enabled me to mature positively despite my often disruptive childhood.
Standardized learning and highly qualified teachers help to even out privilege and counteract disparity. Rigorous content, dynamic pedagogy, and equitable funding are all components of effective public schools.
3. Public education is democracy because all teachers are civics teachers.
Although many people complain about students’ lack of knowledge about civics and history, as institutions, public schools go a long way to civilize the huddled masses. Schools teach rules, expectations, deadlines and collaboration.
Students in public education recite the pledge of allegiance every day, participate in moments of silence when tragedy arises, and collectively learn about American government and values.
4.Public education is democracy because parents invest in their communities and have a voice in the budget every spring.
On May 16, 2017, hundreds of school district across the state of New York will offer spaghetti dinners while holding their breaths in the hope that the community will continue to support their district’s financial needs for another year.
When budgets are rejected it is often due to financial constraints, disagreements over spending, or political issues. However, in my twenty-two years of teaching, I have never taught in a school where the budget was not passed. Every budget is tense, but ultimately in Central New York, anyway, taxpayers see the value in an educated citizenry.
5. Public education is democracy because schools, like American democracy, are messy.
I have a respected colleague that often repeats the line: democracy is messy. No truer words have been spoken. Democracy is horribly untidy — riddled with disagreements, power struggles, and self-centered greed. Schools are microcosms of society, and schools represent both the best and the worst of American values and deficiencies.
Out of the mess, however, comes creativity, athletics, clubs, activities, growth, individuality, and success for millions of students. I don’t always like what happens in America, or in public schools, but I would not want to live or teach in any other type of system.
How would you finish: Public Education is…? Comment below, and consider writing a piece for this publication.
#educationmarch — join the march on July 22, 2017 in Washington, D.C.