Jennifer Hall Lee is a trustee of the public schools of the Pasadena Unified School District. She explains here why public schools are the foundation stone of democracy. All of us pay taxes for public schools even if we have no children; even if our children are no longer school-age; even if our children attend private or religious schools. Supporting public schools is a civic responsibility. Paying for other people’s private choices is not.

In the Superintendent’s Enrollment Committee for the Pasadena Unified School District, a group of us are reading and discussing a book entitled American Public Education and the Responsibility of its Citizens by Sarah Stitzlein.

The book is compelling because it explains why public schools are indispensable to our democracy and how we the people are part and parcel of its success.

I chose the book for the enrollment committee because we live in a time when the importance of public schools is being lost in the trends of privatizing education. Public schools have a dynamic history that seems to keep getting lost.

Why Public Schools

So why are public schools important? Here is my answer: Every child has a seat in a public school. It sounds simple but it is quite profound. No matter who the child is or from where they came, they belong here.

Public education has had its struggles in the United States to be sure. Now we fight the hyper capitalistic phenomenon of privatization (vouchers) in order to preserve the uniquely American institution of public education. At every turn, it seems there is a private company marketing to us to let us know that our child might be better off somewhere else besides a public school.

We live in a time when we are seeing ourselves as consumers rather than citizens.

It’s hard to wrap our heads around the complexity in the world today. The political theorist Benjamin Barber in 2017 suggested that we shift our thinking about the world from seeing nations and instead see our cities, where the majority of people live. It is in the cities, he said, “where we announce ourselves as citizens and participants as people with a right to write our own narratives.”

I understand his point as we are closest to the functions of government in our local communities. We are more apt to know who our city council members are and our librarians, our school board trustees, our mayors, and our county supervisors.

I would extend Barber’s idea to our public schools.

Personally, I think of myself as an Altadenan resident and a member of the PUSD.

For me, it’s easy to support and love my local school district. Simply standing in any one of our schools is a humbling experience because our schools have been through so much history — segregation, integration, and then, unfortunately, resegregation, and now privatization, low birth rates, and high housing costs.

Throughout it all, we succeed.

The PUSD is thought of as a leader throughout the state of California. Our ideas are followed by others in the state in terms of our graduate defense and our graduate profile. We have had many successes and here are just a few:

• We are competitive. In our community, we have the largest number of private schools per capita, yet we are competitive with private schools because of our teachers, principals, signature programs, curriculum, and our diverse student body. There are private school students who choose to come to our district.

• Our graduates attend Yale, Harvard, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Pasadena City College, Howard, Occidental, USC, UC Berkeley, Tulane, UC San Diego, Brown, UC Merced, and more.

• We have been entrusted with back-to-back federal magnet grants because we have shown success.

• We are successfully achieving socio-economic integration through open enrollment.

Public and Publics

When I say public school, I emphasize public.

Please open the link and read the rest of the article.