Barbara Madeloni: Democratic ideal of schools is under assault
To the editor:
I read the responses to Deborah Keish Polin and Tim Scott’s May 17 guest column about the drain charters place on public schools with bemusement and not a little despair that good people continue to argue for practices that are so detrimental to the common good.
Public education is the soil in which we till the possibility for democracy. We live in a moment where the word democracy has come to mean, at best, voting, and, at worst, individual “choice” — from cereals, to cars, to schools. But the democratic ideal that calls for free, equitable, high-quality, well-resourced education for all is about schools as communities in which we participate actively, with respect and empathy for all voices, needs and capacities.
That is why public schools matter. They are sites of diversity, contestation and possibility. They are where our children learn to be in and create community. The focus on individual choice, around which charters grow, is directly contrary to this democratic ideal.
Once we self-select to a private setting apart from public sites, we undermine true diversity. At a moment when the democratic ideal is under assault by market-based ideologues who champion choice, competition and privatization, we need to re-commit to public education that does not siphon off students based on interest, motivation, or learning styles, nor through unacknowledged borders of class and race.
We need to instead commit to the shared site of public schools as and for the common good. Then we must engage the difficult democratic ideal of working with and within difference to create education for democratic engagement.