Since the Reagan era, Republicans have touted the virtues of individual choice. The idea was appealing but ignored the fact that none of us lives alone on an island. We form communities and societies to solve problems and create possibilities that none of us can do alone. We collaborate for our common well-being and safety.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party decided to co-opt the language of Republicans in the crucial area of education. Whereas once Democrats championed equity and support for teacher professionalism, the Obama administration joined in the chorus seeking school choice instead of better public schools for all and belittled our nation’s career educators. So for the past 15 years, we have had a Bush-Obama agenda of testing, accountability, school choice and competition. This agenda has done incredible damage to children, teachers, and public schools. Arthur Camins writes that it also hurts our democracy.

In this post, Arthur Camins explains why individual choice undermines democracy. Camins is Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Camins writes:

“In an 1857 speech, Fredrick Douglass offered this advice: Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. […] If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

“Douglass called for a struggle for a democracy in which the disempowered are the active agents and shapers of their own destiny.

“Donald Trump and promoters of unelected school boards would have us acquiesce to a contrary subservient vision. How dare I equate Trump’s racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, authoritarian appeal with charter-school advocates who wrap themselves in the mantle of civil rights? Well, I am not equating, but I am asserting that they share a dangerous dismissal of the vitalness of democracy.

“Trump wears his disdain for democracy proudly on his sleeve. I am your voice… No one knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. Trump’s message is that the solution to persistent problems is not democracy or for people to join with one another in a struggle for a better life, but rather to trust him.

“Advocates for privately governed, but publicly funded, charter schools are more circumspect. To justify abandonment of democracy, they point to the dysfunction of elected school boards. Netflix’s billionaire CEO Reed Hastings, a charter school cheerleader, argued that instability due to turnover in elected school boards makes long-term planning difficult. Similarly, in one post the Fordham Foundation asserted, “When it comes to school boards, what matters most is the character of those who serve — not how they were selected.” Whatever it takes to get the job done assertions have a practical and utilitarian patina, but are profoundly anti-democratic as its apostles typically eschew the inconvenience of dissent and challenge. History is replete with examples of the slippery slope that begin with constrained restrictions of inconvenient democracy in the name of addressing real or trumped up threats but end with more generalized despotism. The solution to the necessary messiness of contentious democracy is never its avoidance in the name of expediency.

“In contrast to Douglass’s call for struggle, Trump, and advocates for privately governed charter schools share a let others solve your problems for you philosophy. Many share something else. They are- or claim to be- billionaires. The already empowered stake their claims to legitimacy on convincing “the less fortunate” that despite vast differences in wealth, power, and life circumstances, they should trust the judgment of their self-appointed defenders rather than one another. One such disingenuous pitch is that poor folks should have the same school choices as the wealthy. The cynical messages are: Give up on struggle for equity across your racial differences. Give up on democratically governed schools. Improvement depends on being out for yourself, just like us.”

There is more. Please read it.