Keeping Public Schools Public

The conservative challenge to public education has become an important issue in our communities. In The Lottery, the recent documentary about winning a chance to go to a Harlem charter school, we see how charter school advocates try to motivate students. Their major theme is to tell kids they can go to college. That’s a good idea but it doesn’t apply for everyone.

I suggest that we take a more serious look at public education in poorer communities. As progressives, we should also argue that educators need more funding just to deal with the increased poverty created in large part by the private sector. Educators too often are accused of being “introspective” and not connecting the dots between school performance and a society that is mass manufacturing “low-wage, poverty-level service sector jobs.”

The private sector — especially corporate America — has cast its fate in Asia and left many American at or below the poverty line. Most people, if they heard the whole story, would regard the deportation of industry as akin to treason and would generally give the private sector a failing grade in job creation. When test scores come out and conservatives point the finger at public schools, education leaders could well benefit by bringing out data about private sector job pay and quality.

Jane Barkan’s article in Dissent “Got Dough,” details how billionaires — including the Broad Foundation in LA — are pushing their business approach into public education Along with Broad, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart family’s Walton Foundation are the billionaire class leaders in the education debate

Here are some ideas on how I think we could improve education beyond the billionaire model.

Home visits

Progressive community organizing projects in Texas used Saul Alinski’s technique of teachers visiting the homes of students. Given the growing poverty rate and the problems associated with poverty, it makes sense to increase the communication between teachers, parents, and students. With extra pay incentives , teachers could visit 25 families three or so times a year. In Dennis Shirley’s Community Organizing for Urban School Reform, he details how teachers established much closer bonds with parents and students, especially in immigrant families. If the private sector believes in incentives , give teachers bonuses to do three home visits a year for 25 to 30 students which would translate into an extra three to four weeks work a year.

Keeping it quiet

Second-hand smoke is a serious health problem; second-hand noise is a very significant educational problem for people living in crowded areas ,especially with our electronic media-based culture. More affluent kids can go upstairs to a quite room or a quiet part of the house to study. By simply encouraging students who live in apartments to use ear plugs, these students will be leveling the study area playing field. These could cost a dollar a pair when bought in bulk and could be sold through the schools .

Online tutorials

The Khan academy is a free online tutorial program. The founder specializes in math but also has some sessions on other subjects. By simply going to this website an hour a day, most students can significantly improve their math ability. Talking with parents and students and encouraging them to use the Khan Academy is a free service could only improve performance.

International models

We should look at other countries. If communities want to attack more industry and good paying jobs, Germany might be a model. The country is the top exporter in the world along with China. They have an education system where only 15 percent of their students go to college as compared to 27 percent in the U.S., yet they have a high standard of living. The debate there is, “what skills do our children need to meet the challenges of a global economy?” In the U.S., the debate is unfortunately about the two dead-end topics — either cutting funding or focusing on to test or not to test.What skills do they need and how to train them may be what we should be asking.

More parent-teacher contact

Potlucks several times a year with parents classmates and teachers would help. The more contact teachers have with parents, especially in poorer communities, the more they can understand the struggles they are going through. Potlucks are a low-cost get-together and could also include discussions on political educational issues and how everyone can become more responsible and effective regarding the education issue.

Pledge of Allegiance to Public Education

Lester Thurow the noted economist once said “public education is the greatest social invention in the history of the world.” A simple Pledge of Allegiance to Public Education once or twice a week could be a significant motivational tool. Thurow argues that the world has been dramatically transformed because of public education. Traditionally. from the beginning of human kind people. generally worked and learned within their own family. What your parents knew was usually what you would know about work and society.

With education we have been able to expand the universe of learning to where now we produce millions of scientists, doctors , educators and other skilled workers a year throughout the world , in large part because of public education. For thousands of years, we not only had very limited education but with slavery we totally restricted peoples ability to learn. A pledge of Allegiance might sound something like this:

I pledge allegiance to public education, the greatest social invention in the history of the world; the invention that created tens of thousands of schools throughout the country and millions throughout the world; the invention that freed children from the educational process when from the beginning of human society until a century ago most knowledge was passed on from generation to generation through the family. Where work was almost always also passed on from mother to daughter and father to son. Where oftentimes especially in slavery children received no education at all.

craig williamsI also pledge allegiance to public education that gives the poorest child the chance to become a world leader in many fields based on her or his hard study and personal ability. An education system that creates millions of scientists, doctors educators and other skilled workers every year. A system where I along with my fellow students get a free education and can develop into a responsible adult and help make the world a better place for my family, my community, my country and the planet.

Craig Williams

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