The Primary Purpose of Public Education

Because we live in a participatory democracy that depends on its people to accept the responsibilities of citizenship, the overriding purpose of public education is to prepare children to understand and accept their civic duties when they reach maturity.

Democracy exists on a precipice that represents a delicate balance between the rights of individuals to choose how they wish to live while accepting the responsibilities of citizenship. Implicit in those responsibilities are expectations that individuals will:

• Abide by the laws of their communities, state, and nation;
• Share the burden of government by paying their taxes; and,
• Participate in their government through prudent exercise of their right to vote.

The ability to participate in one’s governance and to have choices in life requires a sufficient level of literacy, numeracy, cultural awareness and tolerance, and common sense. Providing the populace with that knowledge, skill, and wisdom is the shared responsibility of parents and our systems of public education.

How we respond to the economic, political, ecological, and socio-cultural challenges of this ever-more-complicated Twenty-First Century is totally dependent upon the quality of our systems of education and the efficacy of the educational process that drives it.

There are some educators who seem to resent the inference that at least part of their purpose is to prepare young people for the workforce. Given the rampant greed with which so many corporate leaders seem consumed there is a sense that the corporate world wants a workforce of unthinking, unimaginative, uncultured worker bees.

As a former business leader, I can assure the reader that automatons are the last thing the vast majority of employers want and there is a real frustration among employers that young people entering the workforce, today, cannot think creatively; lack literacy and the ability to do basic math; are unwilling to work hard; and, are selfish and unmotivated.

The community is the customer of our systems of public education and if the customer is unhappy with the quality of the product, educators must respond or the customer will take its business elsewhere. In that sense, public schools are no different than any other producer of goods and services. When we become dissatisfied with our meal at what was once our favorite restaurant, we start exploring alternatives. Providing alternatives to public schools would seem to be exactly what reformers are striving to do.

Dissatisfied customers are the driving force behind the educational reforms that are sweeping the nation. That the reform efforts of the corporate and government leaders are misguided is a result of their arrogance and ignorance regarding the real challenges in our public schools. They do not understand the challenges because they have not taken the time to walk in the shoes of public school teachers.

The only people who can fix what is broken in American public education are the educators themselves. Because public school teachers are being pummeled with blame for the problems of which they are, themselves, victims, they struggle to separate themselves from the problems. It is also natural that when we are immersed in our daily activities and challenges that we forget to step back to review our purpose and challenge our assumptions about what it is that we do. As professionals, however, this is exactly what educators must do.

Our teachers are in a perfect position to fix what is wrong in our schools and the answers are right there in front of them. It is like a painting with a design hidden within its content and texture. We know it is there but it is not until we step back and view the work from alternate perspectives that the embedded image begins to reveal itself to us.

Educators must have the strength of character and faith in one another, as members of an honorable profession, to acknowledge the things that do not work. They must then accept responsibility for addressing them. Only then can we begin to work together to resolve them.

It is vital that we all work together to maintain the equilibrium between rights and responsibilities and that we assess, unapologetically, the challenges we face as a society in the Twenty-First Century. What we have is a cherished thing but it is jeopardized when we live and interact on the basis of our biases and prejudices rather than the wisdom of an educated populace.

The reader is invited to read my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America, in which I offer a blueprint for a solution to the challenges of public education with a focus on teachers, students, and success.

The November 2014 elections may be the most important election in the history of public education in America.

If you did not see the wonderful editorial, in Sunday’s edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette by Tony Lux, who recently retired as the Superintendent of Merrillville, Indiana Public Schools take a moment and check it out at http://www.jg.net/article/20141012/EDIT05/310119950/1144/EDIT05

Never before has there been so much at stake for our public school teachers and other educators who devote their hearts and souls for the benefit of our nation’s children. Teachers and parents everywhere need to draw upon the election of Glenda Ritz for inspiration. Thanks to the ardent support of teachers and parents, the voters of the State of Indiana rejected the policies of former State Superintendent Tony Bennett and elected award winning teacher, Glenda Ritz to this important office.

Superintendent Ritz garnered more votes than Indiana Governor Mike Pence who, like his predecessor Mitch Daniels, has gone to great lengths to destroy public education and the vital connections between our public schools and the communities they serve.

Voters in Indiana and in states across the nation are encourage to reject candidates who support privatization of education, charter schools, vouchers, the reliance on standardized testing as a measure of teacher and school performance, Common Core, and the other “cars” that make up the “Runaway Train of Misguided Educational Reforms” that have been sweeping the nation.

This is one time when party allegiance must not matter as we pull the curtains and exercise our constitutional right to vote.

Beware of candidates who claim that education is at the top of their priority list but go on to advocate “choice” as if they are protecting the rights of American parents. In the United States of America, parents already have the right to choose a school for their children. Candidates who are advocates of “choice” are really talking about the use of our tax dollars to subsidize with vouchers those parents who want their child to attend charter, private, or parochial schools.

This practice drains critical tax dollars away from our public school corporations on which the overwhelming majority of American children depend. These candidates for public office blame teachers and their schools for all of the problems in education and make no provisions to help the public schools that are left to deal with our nation’s most vulnerable children. What these candidates really support are what I call “the politics of abandonment” and they must be rejected.

Whether you are voting for candidates for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, your state legislature, or local school boards take the time to find out where these candidates stand on the issues of public education, not “tax-payer subsidized privatization” of education in America.

The one thing we learned in Indiana is that teachers and parents have the power to reject all those who threaten the future of our nation’s young people. All we have to do is go to the polls and ask our friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers to do the same.

Never before have we had an opportunity to make such a monumental difference on behalf of our nation’s children!

Disenfranchisement and Hopelessness

What does it mean to be disenfranchised? What does disenfranchisement have to do with Hopelessness?

The most common use of the term disenfranchised has been associated with the right to vote. People who are disenfranchised are not permitted to participate in their own governance. More generally, it could refer to the loss or denial of any of the civil liberties to which a free people are entitled, under the law. Typically, when we say that someone is disenfranchised we are talking about people from whom something has been taken away.

We have chosen to expand the term to include people who have essentially disenfranchised themselves. These are individuals who no longer believe that what they do, think, or say matters to their community, their nation, or society. In this case, disenfranchisement is a voluntary abdication of one’s responsibility to participate in one’s own governance. This type of disenfranchisement flows from hopelessness.

Human beings experience hopelessness when they no longer believe they have control over their own destiny or over the outcomes in their lives. Literally tens of millions of people, in this great nation of ours, have lost hope. They no longer believe that the American people, as a whole, care about them. They no longer believe that anyone is interested in listening to their complaints of woe let alone take action to address those complaints. They no longer believe in the “American Dream.”

It is easy for the rest of us to shout out in pious righteousness that these people need to do something for themselves but, literally, these people do not see anything they can do. That’s what it means to be powerless. Hopelessness and powerlessness are so closely intertwined that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other.

We tell them to get a job, but there are no jobs for them that will enable them to support their families. They can work somewhere for minimum wage but no employer is going to give them a sufficient number of hours per week that would obligate the employer to offer benefits. They can make a better living on Welfare. The argument that Welfare offers no advancement opportunities is meaningless to people who cannot envision something better. We must be able to envision if we are to believe.

When faced with serious injury or illness of a family member, the disenfranchised know that the American people are prepared to let them suffer. They know that every other developed nation in the world, apart from “the land of the free and the brave,” has addressed this issue of access to healthcare. Americans, however, steadfastly refuse to provide healthcare to all Americans. Even when the President of the United States has pushed through healthcare reform legislation in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), however imperfect, the opposition attacks it relentlessly. The message that the disenfranchised hear, loudly and clearly, is that the majority of Americans “do not want us to have quality medical care for our families nor are they willing to pay for that care.”

Mainstream Americans are frustrated that so many people have become dependent on the government for welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid. We cry out, “What more do you want?” We do not understand why these people express resentment rather than gratitude.

When, in the face of our staggering national debt, all the disenfranchised hear from those in power are proposals to cut food stamps, welfare benefits, or other entitlement programs; why would they feel anything other than resentment?

What Americans need to wake up to is the idea that this reality with which we are confronted is a consequence of decisions we have made over the last seventy years. We created this monster called welfare. It was intended to make sure that poor mothers could care for their children but the reality is that it succeeded only in trapping huge populations of Americans in a reality that is little more than second-class citizenship.

It used to be that even the poorest of the poor would see an education as a ticket out of poverty and as a stepping stone to the American Dream. In most urban communities, the disenfranchised no longer believe in education as a ticket to anywhere other than free day care. What they know is that huge percentages of their children are failing in a school system that is also second class. When we offer voucher programs to help families put their children in better schools we are sending a subtle but powerful message that America has given up on urban public schools.

The fact is that the only parents that take advantage of vouchers are people who still cling to hope and some vestige of the American Dream. The other significant fact is that unless the parents who opt to take advantage of vouchers are also willing to accept responsibility as partners in the education of their children and ferociously encourage their sons and daughters to work hard at school these kids will be no more successful in their new schools than they were in their old ones. Many “charter schools” and other schools that admit “voucher children” to their classrooms are finding this out as they see their school’s declining scores on state competency exams.

So, let’s think about this for a moment. We have an expanding population of poor Americans who:
• Are third- or fourth-generation beneficiaries of welfare
• Cannot gain access to anything more than the minimal level of healthcare for their children and little or no healthcare for themselves,
• Who cannot find jobs that pay better than minimum wage and that offers enough hours to qualify for benefits,
• Who see their children fall so far behind in school that “failure” seems inevitable, and
• Who hear elected officials and policy makers demand that we cut entitlement programs rather than increase taxes paid by the wealthy and the middle class.

Why in the world would we expect these men and women to believe in an American Dream that is nothing more than an illusion for them and an empty promise for their children?

Welfare and other programs that teach people to be dependent rather than independent and interdependent are a cancer that is eating away the heart and soul of our nation.

We must acknowledge, as we move further into the Twenty-first Century, that the policies that got us into this mess are incapable of getting us out. We desperately need new ideas and new solutions. We need to think exponentially and challenge all of our assumptions about the way our society provides for the poor, takes care of the sick, and educates our children.

How much longer can we expect working men and women of our nation to continue to carry the burden of a burgeoning population of poor and disenfranchised people on one end of the productivity continuum, and population of retirees that is growing at an unprecedented rate on the other? What happens to our status as the leader of the free world when our economy buckles under the oppressive weight of the retired and the dispossessed?

In a few weeks, I will be introducing my latest book entitled, Re-inventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge of the Twenty-First Century. It is a book that offers a strategic action plan to address major components of the dilemma in which we find ourselves. In this book, I suggest that our systems of education, both public and private, offer the best hope for attacking the problems we face as a society and for bringing the disenfranchised back into a game in which their contributions are desperately needed.

My book Radical Surgery: Reconstructing the American Health Care System, published in 2002, already offers a solution for providing universal healthcare and prescription drugs at a price that we can afford; and, in a way that relies on free market forces, not government, to drive quality, cost, and accountability.

Many people have branded Radical Surgery, sight unseen, as just another proposal for socialized medicine. If they would set aside their prejudices and open the book they would learn that Radical Surgery rejects socialized medicine and offers another alternative. It is an alternative, however, that requires that we open our minds to a whole new way of thinking about healthcare.

Implementation of the very specific strategies offered in these two books, Re-Inventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream and Radical Surgery, will provide a realistic opportunity to re-engage the disengaged members of our community. The consequence of seeing this population continue to grow will be nothing short of apocalyptic, which is what my novel, Light and Transient Causes, has been written to illustrate.