It has become fashionable to hate everything “public” about public education. We here at EduSanity believe that this phenomena is due to a number of different reasons and over the next few entries we intend to unpack the reasons why the public is so down on education that bears its name.
Before we can do that however, we must present our common sense case for publicly funded education for all children in this country. Yes, this includes the children of illegal immigrants. Yes, this includes the children of the elite. If you are a child in this country, we should all pitch in to pay for your education because at the end of the day, it is in everybody’s best interest.
Ever since the end of World War II this country has found a common distaste for anything resembling communism. Events like the Red Scare of the 50’s and 60’s, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the nuclear arms race, Vietnam…etc, have posited a deep fear of anything to the left of ardent capitalism among us. Calling somebody or something “communist”, or more recently “socialist” has long been a convenient rhetorical trick to immediately create a negative image in the minds of the American people. Capitalism is great and we believe that despite our problems, the United States is the greatest country on the planet. But the Cold War is over, history has proven communism to be an unreachable goal and totalitarian socialism to be an economic failure. Why are we still afraid of the socialist boogieman?
But more importantly, why have we forsaken our own republican ideal of liberty and justice for all by refocusing our fear of the “socialist other” on the publicly funded and operated institutions in the United States that provide fundamental services like education? Let’s go back in time to an America that wasn’t yet afraid of socialism by reading the words of Thomas Jefferson, who in a letter supporting his education bill that would provide publicly supported education to America’s children wrote,
“The object [of my education bill was] to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind which in proportion to our population shall be the double or treble of what it is in most countries.”
We cringe at the thought that the talents and potential of those who might not have the means to access schooling would go to waste if they were arbitrarily left out of our nation’s schools. If it were not for the public schools that will accept any student living within the geographic boundaries of an attendance area, you can imagine how exacerbated the division between social classes might become. Is that in anybody’s best interest? How much of a drag on society would a mass of uneducated children become? We cannot allow our schools to become a reflection of a culture based on what’s best for “me” while forsaking thy neighbor and the poor kids down the street.
Granted, the idea of providing education for those who cannot provide for themselves may be considered “socialist” in that resources are redistributed from those who have to those who have not. However, this idea is also truly republican in nature as well, because the foundation of our society is built upon the principle that power is derived from the people. We return to our nation’s first true Republican, Thomas Jefferson, to support our argument. It was Jefferson who understood the necessity of educating all those who would be trusted with the office of citizen and would in turn be given the power from which our republican form of government draws. In his autobiography, Jefferson wrote,
“The less wealthy people,… by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen.”
How can we possibly expect all of our children to become knowledgeable members of society if we do not provide for their education or if we educate them separately from the students whose parents have financial means?
The reality of publicly supported education is the necessity of taxation, and the burden of supporting education in the United States falls primarily to those who own property. Ironically, those who own property are also more likely to have the means to send their children to private schools, yet they do not have a choice on where their tax money is spent. That said, public education is not the only tax supported service provided by the government that we cannot opt out of. There is no option in the United States to receive a “roads voucher” if you don’t own a car, or a “military voucher” if you don’t believe in war, or a “fire voucher” if you decide you’ll extinguish your own house if it catches on fire. And the reason why you cannot opt out of these publicly funded services is because we all need them. We need roads, we need a formidable military, we need fire and police protection, and if we had the choice to opt out of them because we felt (foolishly) like we didn’t need them, the infrastructure of this country would disintegrate.
Public education is no different. You may not like how we educate our students publicly in this country, but keep in mind that there has been, under primarily a system of public education since the mid 1850’s, no more impressive country in the world than the one in which we currently live. Public education is the single greatest thing this country has ever attempted to do. Public education is necessary to protect our interests abroad and to protect us from ourselves.
We dislike paying taxes as much as anybody, but when we reach for our checkbooks (do people still use those?) we console ourselves with one more bit of wisdom from T.J. who reminds us that,
“The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”
Americans, no matter whether they fall in the 1% or the other 99%, need public education in this country. Educating all of our citizens is vital to the prosperity of our country and security of our democracy, and the only way we can make sure that we educate every single child in America is to bite that “socialist” bullet and allocate resources for great public schools. Thomas Jefferson may not have been afraid of the socialist boogieman, but he was rightfully afraid of his own government. We guess it should come as no surprise that the system of public education Jefferson envisioned as a protection against the tyranny of government has now fallen prey to the most tyrannical federal attack in our nation’s history. But don’t worry, the marauders aren’t socialists.
Endacott, J., & Goering, C.Z. (2012, September 7). Public education is not your enemy. EduSanity. Retrieved from http://www.edusanity.com/2012/09/07/public-educati…not-your-enemy/