Philosopher Walter Feinberg recently wrote to explain the “Idea of a Public Education” in Review of Research in Education. Feinberg gave me his permission to reproduce part of that essay here.
In this section, I will examine the major justification for substituting private, parental choice for a larger public good and show why this justification is inadequate. I will do this by reconsidering the idea of a public value, showing that it cannot be reduced to an aggregate of private desires, and then by distinguishing a number of different kinds of values from one another. These will include what economist call neighborhood benefits (Friedman, 1955), which are the goods that one person accrues as a result of advantages that are given directly to another. These are closely related to what I will call shared private values. Both of these are to be distinguished from what I will call common values, which I define here as the shared understand- ings that generate existing private values preferences. Finally, I distinguish these from public values, which I define as common values regulated by discourse.
The concerns of MacIntyre and Lippmann are relevant in helping see the dif- ficulty in moving from common to public values, but these difficulties do not refute the counterclaim to liberalism that the public has an independent status that includes but is not reducible to the aggregate of individuals that compose it. With this argu- ment in place, I then reconsider the role of education in the construction of a pub- lic and show the different levels at which this work can be accomplished. Finally, I address the question of whether a school that reproduces a public needs to be state controlled and supported. Thus, by bringing the idea of a public back into view, I hope to sharpen the mission of a truly public school. I begin with the idea of neigh- borhood effects.
“Neighborhood effects” is a concept developed by classically minded economists to justify the compulsory transfer of funds from one person to another although claiming that such transfer need not diminish individual freedom or promote gov- ernment intervention. The concept has been used in education to justify the use of tax funds to support the idea of vouchers that parents can then use to send their child to a school of their choice, whether private, public, or religious. The transfer of your funds for the education of my child is justified in this view, because, at least up to a certain point, the education of my child benefits you. In other words, when my child learns to read the entire community is better off in a number of ways and so it is not an infringement on individual rights to tax members of the community for the education of other people’s children. Given the premises of market capitalism, this then allows for a legitimate transfer of funds from one party to the next and, according to this view, does not violate the basic tenet of classical capitalism, the freedom to
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determine how to spend your own money. The “neighborhood” then is shorthand for all the individuals who benefit indirectly from another child’s education. A neigh- borhood benefit indicates a value that is shared by many, but it is shared by each of them individually.
Over time, however, according to these economists, the benefits of education begin to accrue less to neighborhood and more to the individual just as education becomes less general and more vocational. As this occurs the obligation of the com- munity to support education is reduced, whereas the obligation of the individuals to support their own education increases. However, the basic point is to both justify maximum individual freedom through choice and then explain why it can be legiti- mate to tax one person to support the educational choice of another. The argument actually fails on a number of accounts; however, the most significant failure is the way in which it distorts the idea of a public.
It is important to distinguish the idea of neighborhood benefits as used by contempo- rary economists with the idea of public goods as developed by Aristotle. Neighborhood benefits accrue to individuals as aggregates. Public goods accrue to individuals but only to the extent that they identify with their polis. An example of a neighborhood benefit might be the shade that your neighbors get when you decide to plant a tree in your yard. An example of a public good would be a decision of the members of a neighborhood to plant trees for the sake of shade. In the latter, there is a communicative relation between the members of the neighborhood that results in recognition that more shade is needed and in the decision to plant more trees in order to provide it. In the former, no such communicative relationship need exist. Hence, with the idea of neighborhood effects people benefit from the shade even if they have no other relation to one another. In other words, they all benefit, but they do so separately.
The result of the idea of the neighborhood effect as the dominant rational for tax-supported schools and for parental choice is to make invisible the idea of a public as involving membership in a community and to reduce the idea of a public to that of individuals each acting and benefiting separately. Given this reduction, it is a very easy step to disparage the idea of a public school as not aiming to reproduce a public but rather to substitute government aims for parental ones. Hence the rhetorical shift whereby public schools become “government” schools and where state-supported compulsory education becomes a questionable “state monopoly” on education. The result is not only the justification of tax dollars to private and for-profit schools but, much more important, the dismissal of any but the most minimal and superficially measurable guidelines as appropriate for appraising the worth of education. Yet as we will see a “public” benefit, which, the argument for choice neglects, is not the same as benefits to all its individual members, and freedom is not the same as choice.
ChoICE Is noT ThE saME as frEEdoM
There are conditions when the introduction of choice policies actually serves to distort preferences. Consider the following example: All of the parents on K Street prefer to send their children to the neighborhood school. They prefer this because
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the neighborhood school, although not the best academically, is pretty good, and because they want their children’s school friends to be their neighborhood friends. There are actually many benefits to this, including the reinforcement of norms when neighbors know each other through knowing each other’s children. However, once choice is introduced, all parents realize that their desire for the overlap of school friends and neighborhood friends is no longer possible. Hence, each parent lists as his or her first choice the best academic school in the town. Some parents are successful; others are turned down. Some do get the school in the neighborhood, but it is no longer the neighborhood school. It is only located in the neighborhood. It is not of the neighborhood. The result is that no parents get their preferred school because the preferred school would be a neighborhood school with all neighborhood children. And although some parents do get their second choice, the best academic school, most do not. In this case, the introduction of choice results in denying parents their preferences and in making them worse off than they would have been without choice.
Think then of the potential relationships that might have developed between neighbor and neighbor through the mutual care for their children as having had a potential reality, aborted though it was. The group then would not be reducible to all of its members, because although all the members remain the same, their relationship to one another would be different. In one setting they are essentially isolated from each other, whereas in the other they are, through their children and the school, in communicative relation with one another. Here the group develops a kind of onto- logical status or a reality that although including the desires of its members is not reducible to those members, because it creates possibilities for new and more reflec- tive desires to be formed. Choice has not added freedom to the group because the desire formed under choice—to attend the best academic school—is not the same as a preference that is shaped through shared communication and reflection. Missing is a mode of communication among individual parents that is essential in the formation of shared values. Without such communication in selecting the best academic school for their child, all of the parents can be said to now hold the same values, and in this sense they are shared, but they are shared serially, by each individual, one at a time.
Although public values are to be distinguished from neighborhood effects, inter- preted as shared values held individually, they also have to be distinguished from common values, or the acknowledged but often implicit background conditions that generate shared judgments and emotional responses. To see how common values function, consider the following example from Ian McEwan’s novel On Chesil Beach (2007), a story of opportunity lost. The time is 1962, just before the sexual revolu- tion begins. The scene is the first night of marriage. The characters are the husband, anxious to consummate the marriage, and his musically talented and fragile wife who loves him deeply but dreads the conjugal act. Their inevitable breakup is due to her offering to love him as his wife but to allow him the sexual freedom to satisfy his desires with other women whenever he feels the need. The offer repels him; he takes it as a sign of impurity, and the brief marriage ends in a quick divorce, a divorce that as the sexual revolution advances, he comes to deeply regret.
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On Chesil Beach illustrates what I mean by common values. They are the assumed understandings and norms that frame or set the emotional register through which the scene is played out. Here, the common values that bind a husband sexually to his wife also disallow a wife to give her husband permission to have sex with other woman. There is an unbreakable bond between love, sex, and marriage that is sanctified by the community, where faithfulness is defined through the sexual bond. This background understanding frames the husband’s response, whereas the wife is willing to challenge it. And because the bond is interpreted through communal norms, neither partner has the license to redefine it, even for the sake of the marriage itself. Some years later, after the sexual revolution gained traction and the background values were challenged and when, given mutual consent, the tie between faithfulness and the sexual bond could be loosened for special circumstances, the husband in the story now sees how his prior response had been socially constructed through the common values of the time. Of course, by then it is too late for him.
This background understanding that shapes the emotional responses of a given time and place is what I am terming common values. Pippin (2010), in describing Nietzsche’s view of the soul, sums up nicely what I am getting at by the idea. He writes of Nietzsche:
The soul is merely the name for a collective historical achievement, a mode of self understanding of one sort or another, what we have made ourselves into at one point or another in the service of some ideal or other. (p. 3)
On Chesil Beach illustrates Nietzsche’s point beautifully and in doing so also illus- trates what I mean by a common value and the way it differs from neighborhood effects as shared individual values held individually.
I want now to argue that a key function of a public is to reflect on common values in a way that makes them public values. And I want to argue that a critical role of a public school is to provide students with the background understanding and the skills required to do this together, as members of an emerging public. There are many advantages, and a few disadvantages, in having such schools state supported, but I will address that topic after a closer look at the meaning of a public.
arIsToTlE: Too hIgh a sTandard, Too shorT a TIME
Aristotle’s understanding of a public as a group of similarly educated like-minded people, friends, committed to a single common good, and able to deliberate without the cloud of self-interest, clearly, is too narrow for contemporary times and to adopt it leads to either the pessimism of MacIntyre or the manipulative realism of Lippmann. There are areas where this ideal must break down. Although the Athenians may have engaged in public deliberation about war and peace, their generals did not engage in public deliberation about strategy. Public deliberation has limits, especially where goals have already been set and the concern is about the technical means to achieve them. It is in the latter discussion where experts have their most significant place,
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although they also have important roles to play in informing a public about the fea- sibility of goals as well.
MacIntyre’s pessimism is grounded in a misunderstanding of this division of labor between goal setting and strategy. Yet one of the first parameters of public formation is to distinguish between accountability to a public, which all elected officials and their appointed aids must be, and public deliberation, which involves a general popu- lation in setting and reflectively assenting to norms set through a deliberative process. Without these amendments, Aristotle’s model becomes a template for cynicism or despair conditioned by both increased plurality and an idealized and impossible con- ception of rationality. With them we can come to see both plurality and discordant conceptions of rationality as constraints on a public deliberative process. And when we do this, we will also have a clearer idea of the unique task of a public school.
rEConCEPTIon of a PublIC
Given these constraints, one way to think of a public is not, as Aristotle did, as a group of friends committed to a common good but as a group of strangers tied together by consciousness of a common fate (Williams, 2003) and in direct or indirect commu- nication with one another about the viability of commonly held value. The following is an expanded definition. A public is an authoritative body of (mostly) strangers
- with separate affiliations and identities,
- connected by common concerns,
- who care about the interests and opinions of others,
- who communicate a willingness to seek common principles and seek shared strat-egies to work out differences, and
- who have direct or indirect authority to shape a common future.Membership in a public overlaps with political citizenship, but it is not the same. Citizens possess rights to define and pursue the good life, to exercise freedom, and to enjoy liberty. Members of a public, by influencing social and institutional arrange- ments, work to secure the conditions of everyone’s freedom (E. Anderson, 1999, p. 329). This membership in a public entails communicative engagement about mutual benefits and hence may address the limits of liberty. Publics are not agents and thus do not act as a body. Rather, governments when appropriately controlled are the agents of the public. Governments act; publics, by setting a tone and developing norms of evaluation, influence and evaluate government action.
The dominant image of a public as a deliberative body, something like a small town meeting, is inappropriate for today’s world. A town meeting may be one forum for a public formation, but it is not the only one, and the image is inappropriate for most instances of public formation because it is too immediate and too concrete. It suggests a single gathering in one place at a specific time to deliberate over a specific issue. Yet members of a public communicate with each other in many different ways and over extended space and time.
Feinberg: The Idea of a Public Education 15 sTandIng In lInE as an EXaMPlE of PublIC CoMMunICaTIon
Take the act of voting, for example. Many political scientists and economists point out the futility of voting. For any single person it is inefficient, rarely does a single vote determine an election. In some cases, for example, when members of the same family intend to vote for completely different candidates, a lot of time could be saved if they just agreed to stay home and to not vote at all. The same principle of efficiency applies when you know that your candidate is going to win (or to lose) by a landslide. Yet many people, in seeming defiance to the principle of efficiency do continue to vote. Are they simply irrational, or is there more to their decision than meets the eye?
It is certainly irrational if the act of voting is seen as doing only one thing—cast- ing an officially recorded preference. Yet another way to think about the act of voting is not as just doing one thing but as doing two things at the same time. The first is stating a preference, but the second is legitimizing a system of setting preferences by standing in line. Now to those who vote under conditions of certain defeat or victory, this second thing—the standing in line to vote may well be the more impor- tant of the two. Voting is an act of a citizen. It is the exercise of the right to state an official preference. Standing in line to vote is something else. It is a visible signal by a member of a public that voting is an important civic responsibility that serves to legitimize a democratic system itself. Standing in line is not stating a preference. It is an act of mutual communication of members of a public, each of them strangers to one another, about the importance of maintaining institutional legitimacy. And in this communication, the legitimacy of the system is maintained. This is why some people worry when voting turnout is low or when young people do not vote. It is also why terrorists will often try to attack the voting process itself. If people are afraid to communicate legitimacy to one another, then legitimacy itself dissolves.
ThE ConCEPTs of raCIsM and sEXIsM as EXaMPlEs of PublIC norM sETTIng
Members of a public are engaged in mutual communication reinforcing com- mon values, for example, voting. However, they are also engaged in a reflection on the appropriateness of common values and their consistency with one another. This reflection may take place over extended periods of time and in various ways, and through different venues, providing common values with their public status. It is here in the engagement of collective reflection on common values that the creative norma- tive work of a public is performed and where the public actually creates and endorses new norms, moral inventions if you will, to address new facts and new situations. The evolution of the concepts of racism and sexual harassment are examples of this intergenerational public work.
The idea of sexual harassment is relatively new and likely was formulated officially and in legal terms in the 1970s. Yet for the idea to be articulated in legal terms, much work needed to be done. Harassment suggests more than just bothering another person. It involves getting in the way of their performing an accepted and legitimate
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role. It is not harassment when someone stops a person from robbing a bank, but it is harassment when one is unable to perform a legitimately assigned task. Before the idea of sexual harassment could take shape, the notion that the sexual division of labor had to be rejected as natural.
For the idea of sexual harassment to take shape, the prevailing idea that the proper place of women was in the home and that their singular purpose was to raise children and care for their husbands had to be challenged. Until the idea of a natural sexual division of labor and the common values associated with it were openly questioned, women who sought to have careers outside the home were viewed as misplaced, overly ambitious intruders on the man’s domain. The exceptions were wifelike and mother-like roles such as nursing or school teaching or roles that placed women in a subordinate position to men. These roles were acceptable because they were seen as akin to a woman’s “natural” work. Without this challenge, the “male” behavior that dominated the work place—sexual jokes, girly calendars, the glass ceiling, and so on—were the accepted common values of the time.
The idea of harassment applied to women required that this idea of a “natural” sexual division of labor be discredited in both individual and collective consciousness and that a new normative template be substituted for it. As the idea of sexual harass- ment developed, then items such as nude posters or demeaning jokes in the work- place become more than just a personal matter congruent with the common values of the time. They become social, political, and sometimes legal matters.
The concept of racism provides a similar evolutionary trajectory. The word rac- ism did not appear in any major English language dictionary before its inclusion in a 1933 edition of Webster’s where the term racism was placed in its “New Words” sec- tion and was perhaps the first official acknowledgment of the term (Neilson & Knott, 1933/1950). It was defined then as now in terms of the belief in racial superiority, but race did not mean quite the same thing then as it does now. The historian George Fredrickson (2002) tracks the first scholarly use of the term racism to the 1920s where it “was first applied to ideologies making invidious distinctions among divi- sions of the ‘white’ or Caucasian race, and especially to show that Aryan or Nordics were superior to other people normally considered ‘white’” (p. 156). The inclusion in Webster’s coincided with Hitler’s rise to power but did not seem to have any specific application to the treatment of Black people.
Encyclopedias reveal a similar history. The 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica defines race as a “tribe, breed, or group of plants, animals, or persons descended from a com- mon ancestor” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910–1911, p. 774). Beyond a short para- graph, there is nothing further mentioned. The 1936, 1947, and 1957 versions have expanded sections on race but no explicit category for racism. This continues until 1968 and 1974, when more detail on the various attributes of race is added. Ethnicity is equated with race (the article speaks of “East European” races) in the 1968 edition, though no direct entries on either racism or racialism is noted. Racialism is dealt with within the text on race but does not garner a separate entry until the 1974 edition and then in the context of a discussion of historical occurrences, such as the Civil
Feinberg: The Idea of a Public Education 17
Rights era. As the discussion shifts over the years, history replaces biology as the relevant conceptual framework, and before “racism” becomes an official entry, there is an expanded discussion on the conflicts of African Americans. By the 1986 and then the 1998 editions, “racism” is an entry of two-page length, with more detail. Of course, these changes did not just take place through scholarly instruments but rather these instruments reflect and then reinforce movements that occur on the street and in the courts, which are then reflected in school texts.
The emergence of the concepts of both sexual harassment and racism as reflections on and challenges to existing common values adds an important intergenerational dimension to the idea of a public and gives public will formation perspective and distance that more traditional notions tend to bypass. In both cases, as aggrieved individuals begin to develop their own collective voice, a value commonly accepted by the dominant groups—that Whites are of greater worth than Blacks, or men are more able than women—is set apart from other dominant common values and reflected on, sometimes as a response to protest or other social events, sometimes as a result of litigation, sometimes in repulsion over systematic and obvious injustices. Hence, public values emerge out of the critique of specific common values and form the premises for a new and renewed rationality, and a unique role for public education to transmit and refine those values also emerges.
IdEnTITy and a CoMMon faTE
The first question of public education is not who shall control it, parent or state, or even how it should be financed (Gutmann, 1987). The primary question about public education is how to initiate students into this ongoing intergenerational conversation where they understand that this conversation is about them. It involves creating bonds of trust where new citizens understand that others are able to engage in reasonable discourses, where each accepts the burden of justification, and where students learn to reject servility both intellectually and emotionally, for themselves and for others (Callan, 1997, pp. 152–157). It also entails the extension of Aristotle’s idea of friend- ship beyond those whom we know or with whom we share close relationships. Danielle Allen (2006) explains this goal in her concept of political friendship, which she defines as “not an emotion, but a practice, a set of hard-won, complicated habits that are used to bridge trouble, difficulty, and differences of personal experience and aspiration” (p. xxi). Political friendship extracts its qualities from personal friendship allowing that we all enjoy a life that although not common or identical is nevertheless shared in terms of events, climate, environment, and the likes and begins with the awareness of the fact that “we are always awash in each other’s lives” (Allan, 2006, p. xxii).
In returning to the question of public education, it is useful for us to consider the preconditions of political friendship such as the habit of recognizing, publicly acknowledging, and rejecting servility or promoting habits of deliberation that accept the burden of judgment. These are subtle skills and require exceptional pedagogy to teach. For example, recognizing servility involves sensitivity to the behavior of the quiet and “good” student and teaching a student not to be servile may require delicate
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navigation with parental or cultural norms. For educators, it also involves teaching less articulate or shy students to develop the skills needed to give expression to their own ideas and values within a public forum (Mansbridge, 1980). Still, the develop- ment of political friendship must often be done at a considerable distance and thus will not have the emotional ties associated with personal friendship. In its place must be a kind of complicated trust. “Trust,” because it provides others with the benefit of the doubt about their intentions. “Complicated,” because it has reservation about the capacity of others to act on my behalf, and because it allows that interests, both my own and others, can change as communication increases.
Public understanding does not only mean that individuals must comprehend their common problems and the alternative solutions to them. It also means that each person must have reasonably secure knowledge that every other person understands a problem and is willing to comply with the accepted solutions. And, to cement this understanding, all persons must also know that other people have the same level of secure understanding about their (the first party’s) understanding and willingness. For example, it is not sufficient that everyone just understands that there is a concern about global warming, or even that they be able to appraise the evidence for it. In addition, they need to know that others are aware of the problem and that they too are inclined to comply with the policies to address it. Otherwise one person’s compli- ance will be seen as futile and everyone has good reason to become a free rider on everyone else. Thus, that person must have secure knowledge that Persons 2, 3, 4, and others have the same knowledge as she or he and that given this knowledge their compliance is secure. “The same understanding” means not only knowing the objec- tive conditions and evidence but also an awareness of the intersubjective conditions that lead to compliance. To secure compliance, Person 1 must know that Persons 2, 3, 4, and others have a similar understanding of Person 1 and then of each other.
In a democracy, this kind of knowledge—both vertical and horizontal—stabilizes commitment and avoids the free rider problem that economists are so fond of citing where one person takes advantage of the goodwill of others. In reality, of course, there will always be free riders. The goals of an education that is public in the strict sense of the term is to encourage students to act as if everyone had the requisite knowledge and was willing to comply, with the understanding that their act has communicative value and serves then as a model to encourage compliance. This requires a pedagogi- cal strategy and a curriculum where students are provided respect and where they learn to air their different views while respecting the views of others. Political friend- ship also requires sensitivity to the interests and standpoint of strangers and it is where students learn to listen to and address the concerns of others.
The Agora provided an informal space where people developed shared under- standings and common interests. Aristotle began to formalize this identity in his discussion of the education appropriate to membership in a public, which he largely
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identified with the education of rulers and legislators. The interests that developed were then both vertical—the good of the polis—and horizontal—the enjoyment and respect provided to one’s peers. This horizontal factor was critical. For even the best ideas required sacrifice, and friendship provided the trust that others would not take advantage of your willingness to sacrifice for a larger good. This reconstruction of the Agora is helpful in allowing us to see two sides to truly public education. The first is an engagement in an intergenerational conversation about the public good, and the second is a concern to provide others with a voice in that conversation. The first reflects Aristotle’s vertical concern—the good of the whole. The second reflects his horizontal concern—the respect due to all engaged in the conversation. Today there is a planetary dimension to both of these concerns. Identity has extended from the polis to the globe. Whereas once a shared fate was bounded by the walls of a city- state, today it can extend to the concerns of a planetary community and where there is in addition to more local fates, there is also a global one, dependent on the care of the planet.
sETTIng an agEnda for PublIC EduCaTIon
The goal of public education is to renew a public by providing the young with the skills, dispositions, and perspectives required to engage with strangers about their shared interests and common fate and to contribute to shaping it. This goal is consis- tent with conventional education and the development of a reasonable level of profi- ciency in traditional subject areas, and it certainly does not preclude the importance of education for the development of useful and demanding skills. Indeed, this is a condition of education in general, whether public or not. The idea of a public educa- tion simply adds another dimension to this, and it is as much concerned with matters of pedagogy and method as it is with subject matter.
Since that conversation between strangers extends across generational lines and involves the development of the capacity to reflect on and address common values, sometimes to renew them, sometimes to change them, a public education requires students to understand and develop their own agency. It also requires that they gain perspective on their own commitments and emotional responses. Distance and per- spective are gained in the academic curriculum by developing the habit of reflecting on one’s own production, whether it be a work of art, a piece of writing, an argument, a math proof, or a craft production, and to see it through the eyes of others. This is one reason why open discussion and critical peer evaluation are important compo- nents of public education, and why subject matter proficiency alone (Hirsch, 1987), although necessary, is not sufficient. Perspective and distance is also gained through the nonformal aspects of school life in terms of the inclusiveness of the student body and the teachers and the way in which interaction among different cultural, religious, racial, and social class groups is encouraged. In schools where students from different background can intermingle, stereotypes can be directly addressed and uncritically accepted assumptions can be reconsidered.
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MusT a PublIC sChool bE a govErnMEnT sChool and MusT
a govErnMEnT sChool bE a PublIC sChool
The present debate about public education involves school choice, and I now want to return to that topic. For the most part, the idea of choice as it is advanced today by neoconservatives is not consistent with the idea of a public education. This is because it encourages parents to select schools along class or racial lines or because of some other group similarity. This need not be the case (Brighouse, 2000), but often lacking is the face-to face-encounter with children from different groups that is essential to a public formation. In many cases, these schools diminish the idea of a public.
Nevertheless, given the homogeneity of neighborhood schools (Reich, 2008) and the present tendency of people to live in neighborhoods where their neighbors share their out- look, it is not clear that government-supported neighborhood schools are always a lot more public in the sense that I have described it here. Moreover, there are sometimes acceptable academic reasons for educating together students who share important similarities. Age and maturity level is one obvious case. Special needs and maintaining cultural coherence in certain cases of vulnerability are sometimes others (Feinberg, 1998; Kymlicka, 1995). Given these and other exceptions, we can still make very broad distinctions.
For example, a public school is distinguished from a private school whose specific task might be to reproduce a certain class or to provide students with the outlook of that class. And it is also to be distinguished from many religious schools whose distinct mission is to reproduce a congregation loyal to a specific set of devotional beliefs. This does not mean that religious and private schools cannot serve important public ends; they often do. Yet if they were to also be thought of as public schools, the uniformity they seek would need to be addressed and they would need to be publicly accountable. I have addressed this elsewhere and so will not go into it here (Feinberg, 2008). However, here it is important to distinguish schools that serve a public good from schools that reproduce a public, where students are taught to engage with strangers about a common fate.
What needs to be emphasized is just how much this understanding differs from the current usage. The present understanding of a public education is framed in economic terms with the emphasis on support. Given this understanding, then the civic ideal of a public school, as the site where a public is reproduced, is replaced by an economic function. Schools function to produce marketable skills. Given this shift, then of course it makes sense to enable parents to choose the schools that they want for their own chil- dren, and as long as it meets minimum state standards it may sometimes make sense for them to receive state support, given the broad requirement for equality of opportunity. Yet my argument has been that in losing sight of the public role of public education, we lose the process of public formation altogether and that this is a very high price to pay.