What Do We Want from Public Schools?
Ok students, let’s start today with a quick multiple choice question.
Which of the following represents the best reason for having a highly functioning system of public schools?
a) economic stability
b) social stability
c) political stability
d) joy of the individual
Yes I know. I hated these “best reason” questions when I was taking standardized tests, too. It always seemed to me that these questions were asking you to guess what was in the test makers head. Nonetheless, your answer to this question will go a long way to determining what kind of schools you champion.
If your answer to the question is a) economic stability, you are part of a long tradition in American education that sees education for its utilitarian value. One early proponent of the economic stability argument was Booker T. Washington, who argued that the best way for newly freed African Americans to find their place in an American society that they had been brought to in chains was to learn a trade. Later on, public school districts throughout the country built vocational schools where high school students learned practical skills to ensure employment. In this day and age, when a high school diploma seems inadequate for earning a living wage, those who focus on economic stability are likely to champion educational standards that promise to get students “college and career ready.” If your concern is maintaining the economic status quo, you may choose economic stability as the goal of public schooling.
If your answer is b) social stability, you also have history on your side. As Michael Katz has shown in his book The Irony of Early Education Reform, a driving motive behind the reform movement in public education in the 19th century was to convert the children of factory workers and recent Russ on Reading: What Do We Want from Public Schools?: