What Is The Public Education That Will Sustain An Ever More Successful America?

In order to address the essential question — What Is The Public Education That Will Sustain An Ever More Successful America? — there needs to be some imagining:

  1. What does a successful America look like in the future?
  2. What are the qualities citizens must possess in order to sustain an ever more successful America?
  3. What is the system of public education that has the best chance to produce those qualities?

For all of the sound and fury concerning the system of American public education, there seems little effort to define system aim / purpose / mission of the system.

A vision of a successful America in the future should be what directs discussions about public education. It would make a wonderful seminar discussion to flesh out, with practical examples, what a successful America in the future might look like.

I find it disturbing that President Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, define the mission of American public education almost exclusively in economic terms. Obama, for example, says, “Our future is on the line. Giving our kids the best education is an economic imperative.” And Duncan says, “Nothing — nothing is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation’s students.”

The mission of America is one that transcends prosperity. I agree that a successful America in the future will enjoy increased prosperity. But widely spread prosperity, I believe, will come as a byproduct of a successful democracy. Every totalitarian state, I’m sure, wants to produce a “competitive work force” that will secure an economic advantage over other nations. But, according to its historical mission, reflected in the pledge of allegiance we commonly repeat, America wants much more. America wants “liberty and justice for all.”

Unfortunately, it is the oligarchy’s POV concerning American education that frames the discussion. So we are told education is an economic imperative vital to our future prosperity and that it should center of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education. We are fed propaganda that increasing test scores by 5% will result in a $41 trillion windfall.

As I note in “Just Singing A Song Won’t Change The World,” since I started to keep a web log, I find myself coming back to the central POV I started with — “Democracy is the Answer.” Name a problem — more democracy is the answer:

  • Raising America’s standard of living — more democracy is the answer.
  • Transforming our system of public education — more democracy is the answer.
  • World peace — more democracy is the answer.

Here are my answers to the first two of the three questions I posed at the beginning of this post:

  1. A foundational requirement for a successful America in the future, I believe, is that it operates as a vigorous representative democracy, with a government that is of the people, by the people and for the people. Any future where there is an optimal outcome for America requires that our democracy operate effectively. What does a successful America look like in the future? A vigorous democracy.
  2. In order to get to that future, the mission of the American system of public education, it follows, must be to develop within American citizens the capacity and inclination to fully participate in their democracy. The qualities in students education should seek to develop are those qualities needed for effective citizenship.

The oligarchy, of course, defines the mission of education as preparing workers for world class competition, and says education is all about STEM. If there could arise a consensus that the mission of public education is to develop citizens, not workers, the importance of STEM education would fade and a whole different set of educational goals and objectives would be pursued.

The point is, if we define the mission of education as developing individual potential and structure public education to develop the capacities of individuals needed for effective citizenship — thoughtfulness, independence, knowledge, intellectual confidence, curiosity, empathy, ability to communicate and work in groups, etc. — economic growth will occur as a natural byproduct of individual initiative and entrepreneurship.  Citizens ready to give leadership to strengthening democracy will be ready to give leadership to strengthening the economy as well.

The question I posed — What Is The Public Education That Will Sustain An Ever More Successful America? –– is a system question. Every system is focused on achieving an aim and achieving an aim is what drives a system. I am suggesting that the aim of public education, broadly speaking, should be all about developing effective citizenship.

Previously I suggested that the aim of education is to give every citizen effective opportunity. I asked, “If The Aim Of Public Education Is To Provide Opportunity — How Should $150,000 Per Student Be Spent?”

The POV I am coming to is that although providing individual opportunity is an important mission, it is embedded in a bigger mission. A more comprehensive question that might serve as a good thought question is: “If The Aim Of Public Education Is To Develop Effective Citizens — How Should $150,000 Per Student Be Spent?”

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4 Responses to What Is The Public Education That Will Sustain An Ever More Successful America?

  1. Eric says:

    Are you suggesting that Governor Strickland’s education reform won’t develop effective citizens? Isn’t it enough to spend money as directed by the Governor’s HB-1 to develop effective citizens?

    If the answer is no, then name an effective citizen and explain how the named citizen addressed our Governor’s failure to ensure development of effective citizenship.

    $150,000 is a terrible thing to waste…

  2. Mike Bock says:

    Eric — This class of Ohio ninth graders will be the first to need 4 years of math to qualify for a first class Ohio high school diploma and one of the 4 math credits must be Algebra Two. Meanwhile, of the voters age 18-30, the age group of the most recent recipients of a Ohio public school education, only 20% voted in the last election. Why is there such a concern for STEM education, but not civic education?

    There needs to be some soul searching about how to define the purpose/aim of Ohio public education. Really, what should public education seek to accomplish? How should the public good in public education be defined?

    Ohio is essentially perpetuating a fraud by officially equating the accomplishment of minimum standards with “Excellence.” Strickland’s educational leadership was a disappointment because he seemed satisfied to use the banal thinking of the Ohio legislature and bureaucratic thinking of the Ohio educational establishment to guide his reform ideas. Guess what? The educational bureaucracy is not much interested in actual transformation.

    My conclusion is that the reform — the transformation — of public education that is needed is unlikely to emerge from either the state or federal level. But, a local district that could find sufficient consensus in its community, I believe, could show the way. My conclusion is that the improvement, the transformation, needed in public education can most likely happen via an authentic democratic (small “d”) grassroots movement. Such a movement would require an effort by a sufficient number of citizens in a community to put the effort into becoming “effective citizens” and to demonstrate the gumption and vision needed to exercise meaningful local control. I’m willing to give such an effort a try here in Kettering, but I realize bringing a critical mass of citizens here in Kettering together in agreement will not be easy. I’m wondering how far I might be able to move this thought along with, say, a commitment of 300 hours of my time in 2011.

  3. Eric says:

    Why not suggest (to the Ohio Board of Education) a model lesson: Mock Court Martial: Educational Treason

    Topics to be addressed: Which best compels “defense of the Constitution: state and federal law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or a hybrid of the two?

    What acts would constitute “educational treason?”

    Who should be tried?

  4. Mike Bock says:

    Eric, you ask, “What acts would constitute “educational treason?”

    A Nation at Risk was published in 1983 and had this famous line: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

    This ANAR document seems to say that everything that imposes mediocre education on America verges on the treasonous. So how do you analyze what it is that makes American education mediocre, lackluster? Shouldn’t we agree with Deming that it is the system, the system, the system?

    Treason indicates betrayal so I don’t know that “Educational betrayal” is the right term to use; I’m thinking the term “Educational exploitation” is more to the point. There is big money is public education and the system of education is all about how that money is apportioned. As it is 86% of Kettering’s school budget goes to personnel and Kettering is typical. The system is pretty comfortable with how things are. The system is wonderfully resistant to change because the biggest aim of the system is to maintain the status quo. The system will never transform itself. And that is why we need school board members who, rather than fading into the system as figureheads, are willing to show leadership.

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