Adam Laats is a historian of education at the State University of New York in Binghamton. He recently wrote a hopeful article in The Atlantic about the future, which I posted here, while disagreeing with his optimism. As the Supreme Court seems poised to tear down the wall of separaration, as the charter industry grows despite its multiple failures, as Republicans embrace privatization of schools, I’m not able to share his optimism. I hope he is right, and I am wrong.

He writes:

Things in the world of public education are grim. Texas politicians are banning books. GOP leaders continue their attacks on teachers and curriculum. And teachers are left, in one case at least, literally scrambling for dollars to fund their classroom essentials. 

And for those who know the history, none of this is new. As I argued in my book The Other School Reformers(Harvard University Press, 2015), for a hundred years, politicians and activists have attacked public schools, humiliated teachers, and frightened administrators into purging good science, history, and literature from their classrooms.

In this environment, it might seem ridiculous to suggest that public schools are winning, in the long term. Yet that’s what I argued recently in the pages of The Atlantic. Yes, conservatives seem to be mounting a vigorous assault on public education, a series of mini-January 6ths at school board meetings. In the end, though, those assaults only amount to what I’ve called a “politics of petulance,” more about political theater than actual ed policy. In the end, I think, the widespread demand for public education will outweigh any short-sighted partisan rancor. As I wrote,

Politicians willing to stand in the schoolhouse door to keep out troubling ideas will not be willing to stand there forever. Sooner or later, the cameras will leave, and parents will demand that schools give their children the best available education.

On this blog, Diane asked fair questions about my optimism. As Diane put it,

If parents really cared about high-quality education, wouldn’t they demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better physical care of schools?

I appreciate the opportunity to respond. In my current book, I’m exploring the earliest history of public schools in American cities, a topic Diane knows very well from her research into the history of New York’s schools. That history shows exactly those trends Diane mentioned, leading to the birth of urban public education. Parents DID demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better school facilities.