Yesterday I wrote a blog about a tiny rural district in Idaho where the community did everything possible to support their school but it wasn’t good enough. The tax base was so meager that the school was in deficit, and budget cuts were putting the school in peril.
A reader commented that this was an instance where the district might benefit by abandoning its public school and turning it into a charter school. This, the reader said, would make It possible to leverage funds from corporate sponsors.
Another reader responded to the first one and wrote:
“If you turn your tax supported schools over to corporate sponsors, in the process you lose your local representative government. The corporate sponsors control all aspects of your public school/s-plus they will train your children for whatever the global economy dictates. I suggest, there will be no upward mobility for your children in that area of Kansas or anywhere else in the USA. These charter schools destroy the “American Dream”. There is an old song that goes something like this: “I owe my soul to the company store”. Don’t allow the multi national corporations to do this to our children and destroy their American Dream! We must, if we are to prevail as a nation, at least give every child the equal opportunity to achieve in the American Dream.”
“Charter/Choice/Voucher schools destroy the American Dream. Not only that- they destroy representative government e. g. local school boards and local representation. This is taxation without representation. We fought a war of independence for that principle. Why have Americans forgotten that?”
I agree with this response. I have come to believe that there is a vital connection between the community and the school. If public policy severs that connection, it is an abandonment of democracy. And in the case of charters, now the fad du jour, it hands children over to wealthy benefactors or corporate interests. I don’t mean to suggest that either wealthy benefactors or corporate interests have evil intent, but that their interests may not coincide with those of parents and the community. Public schools are an instrument of democracy to the extent that they maintain a vital connection with families and their community.
In the past decade, there has been a strong effort to hand schools over to some powerful figure or authority to “fix” them. So we have seen mayoral control in some cities, where the mayor has (in New York City, for example) unlimited authority to do as he wishes without regard to community wishes. This is nothing more nor less than the elimination of representative government. The purpose is to establish autocratic rule, in which the voices of the community don’t count. Schools are closed no matter what their communities say. We have also seen state takeovers (as in Philadelphia and St. Louis) where the state is so ineffective that the public schools are made worse than before the state intervened.
Democracy is hard, but it is still the best form of government that we know. We destroy the notion of public education at our peril.