Monday, March 26, 2007

Why I Believe in Public Education

by Jon Samuels | from the Public Education Network Newsblast

In 1832, Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to assess the notion that our democracy was a beacon for the world. His astute observations remain a classic guide to America’s success.

American prosperity, he concluded, was founded on several conditions unique to this society.

First, we did not let class determine a person’s stature. A ruffian with a good idea and a work ethic could exchange places with a son of wealth who felt innovative thought and labor were beneath a gentleman’s dignity.

Second, movement within the country was unfettered. This lack of internal passports, documents common in eighteenth century Europe, was essential to the vibrancy found in American society. Regardless of their station, Americans could go where opportunity beckoned.

Third, our system of public education, raucous as it was, provided the skills and knowledge that our citizens could employ to take advantage of a classless and mobile society. Unlike old Europe, we did not fear an educated proletariat.

Despite our flawed application of these principles, opportunity, mobility and education remain the pillars supporting American democracy, and education makes the others worthwhile. In the truest sense, we do not pay taxes to support the education of our individual children, we pay taxes to support the role public education plays in civilizing and enriching our society.

Writing today, de Tocqueville might note the erosion of our public schools and the roles played in that by racism, failed discipline, missing parents, rote teaching and testing gone berserk. But, he would be confident in our defense of public education. He would argue that it was not within the American character to shrink in the face of challenge. He would expect that we would tax ourselves sufficiently to provide for the common educational good.

He would not be surprised when we raised the station of our teachers. He would anticipate our solution of the dropout problem and our reinstitution of discipline and mutual respect in our schools. He would expect that we would use tests surgically to expand an improved curriculum.

de Tocqueville loved an America whose citizens cared little for self-pity but cared much about bringing in the harvest.

That is why I support public education for it may well produce our most important harvest.

That is why I do not support any “choice” that would further impoverish our public school system, that, however unintentional, could result in a few fleeing the problems that affect the many, that could create educational slums to warehouse an overwhelmingly poor and minority population. That would not be the America that enthralled de Tocqueville. That might be a fatal harvest.

I am sure that those who disagree with me are acting out of the courage of their convictions. I would ask, however, that they also have the courage of the consequences of their convictions.

I have no children in our schools and I have reached an age when it is tempting to leave the driving to someone else. On the other hand, I remain a passenger on our national bus and I would like to ensure the driver knows the route.

Public education is one of the bedrock guarantees that
America will continue down freedom’s road.

  • Jon Samuels is a Board Member Public Education Partners, Aiken, South Carolina and a founding partner of Synergem Emergency Services , L.L.C.

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