Archives for category: Supporting public schools

Historian Heather Cox Richardson reminds us of a time long ago when Republicans were champions of public schools. long, long ago.

On August 21, 1831, enslaved American Nat Turner led about 70 of his enslaved and free Black neighbors in a rebellion to awaken his white neighbors to the inherent brutality of slaveholding and the dangers it presented to their own safety. Turner and his friends traveled from house to house in their neighborhood in Southampton County, Virginia, freeing enslaved people and murdering about 60 of the white men, women, and children they encountered. Their goal, Turner later told an interviewer, was “to carry terror and devastation wherever we went.”

State militia put down the rebellion in a couple of days, and both the legal system and white vigilantes killed at least 200 Black Virginians, many of whom were not involved in Turner’s bid to end enslavement. Turner himself was captured in October, tried in November, sentenced to death, and hanged.

But white Virginians, and white folks in neighboring southern states, remained frightened. Turner had been, in their minds, a well-treated, educated enslaved man, who knew his Bible well and seemed the very last sort of person they would have expected to revolt. And so they responded to the rebellion in two ways. They turned against the idea that enslavement was a bad thing and instead began to argue that human enslavement was a positive good.

And states across the South passed laws making it a crime to teach enslaved Americans to read and write.

Denying enslaved Black Americans access to education exiled them from a place in the nation. The Framers had quite explicitly organized the United States not on the principles of religion or tradition, but rather on the principles of the Enlightenment: the idea that, by applying knowledge and reasoning to the natural world, men could figure out the best way to order society. Someone excluded from access to education could not participate in that national project. Instead, that person was read out of society, doomed to be controlled by leaders who marshaled propaganda and religion to defend their dominance.

In 1858, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond explained that society needed “a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.”

But when they organized in the 1850s to push back against the efforts of elite enslavers like Hammond to take over the national government, members of the fledgling Republican Party recognized the importance of education. In 1859, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln explained that those who adhered to the “mud-sill” theory “assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible…. According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious, and dangerous.”

Lincoln argued that workers were not simply drudges but rather were the heart of the economy. “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.” He tied the political vision of the Framers to this economic vision. In order to prosper, he argued, men needed “book-learning,” and he called for universal education. An educated community, he said, “will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”

When they were in control of the federal government in the 1860s, Republicans passed the Land Grant College Act, funding public universities so that men without wealthy fathers might have access to higher education. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Republicans also tried to use the federal government to fund public schools for poor Black and white Americans, dividing money up according to illiteracy rates.

But President Andrew Johnson vetoed that bill on the grounds that the federal government had no business protecting Black education; that process, he said, belonged to the states—which for the next century denied Black and Brown people equal access to schools, excluding them from full participation in American society and condemning them to menial labor.

Then, in 1954, after decades of pressure from Black and Brown Americans for equal access to public schools, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California, unanimously agreed that separate schools were inherently unequal, and thus unconstitutional. The federal government stepped in to make sure the states could not deny education to the children who lived within their boundaries.

And now, in 2022, we are in a new educational moment. Between January 2021 and January 2022, the legislatures of 35 states introduced 137 bills to keep students from learning about issues of race, LBGTQ+ issues, politics, and American history. More recently, the Republican-dominated legislature of Florida passed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act, tightly controlling how schools and employee training can talk about race or gender discrimination.

Republican-dominated legislatures and school districts are also purging books from school libraries and notifying parents each time a child checks out a book. Most of the books removed are by or about Black people, people of color, or LGBTQ+ individuals.

Both sets of laws are likely to result in teachers censoring themselves or leaving the profession out of concern they will inadvertently run afoul of the new laws, a disastrous outcome when the nation’s teaching profession is already in crisis. School districts facing catastrophic teacher shortages are trying to keep classrooms open by doubling up classes, cutting the school week down to four days, and permitting veterans without educational training to teach—all of which will likely hurt students trying to regain their educational footing after the worst of the pandemic.

This, in turn, adds weight to the move to divert public money from the public schools into private schools that are not overseen by state authorities. In Florida, the Republican-controlled legislature has dramatically expanded the state’s use of vouchers recently, arguing that tying money to students rather than schools expands parents’ choices while leaving unspoken that defunded public schools will be less and less attractive. In June, in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court expanded the voucher system to include religious schools, ruling that Maine, which provides vouchers in towns that don’t have public high schools, must allow those vouchers to go to religious schools as well as secular ones. Thus tax dollars will support religious schools.

In 2022, it seems worth remembering that in 1831, lawmakers afraid that Black Americans exposed to the ideas in books and schools would claim the equality that was their birthright under the Declaration of Independence made sure their Black neighbors could not get an education.

Notes:

The latest Phi Delta Kappa poll about education was released, and it shows the damage that so-called reformers have done to the teaching profession.

On the one hand, public esteem for public schools is high. But most parents do not want their children to become teachers. Thanks, Bill Gates. Thanks, National Council on Teacher Quality. Thanks, TFA. Thanks, Michelle Rhee. Thanks, TeachPlus. Thanks, Educators4Excellence. Thanks, Walton family. Thanks, Ron DeSantis. So many to thank for smearing a great and noble profession.

Americans’ ratings of their community’s public schools reached a new high dating back 48 years in this year’s PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, while fewer than ever expressed interest in having their child work as a public school teacher.

Results of the 54th annual PDK Poll tell a tale of conflicted views of public schools — local ratings are at nearly a five-decade high and a majority have trust and confidence in teachers, yet there’s wide recognition that the challenges they face make their jobs broadly undesirable.

Just 37% of respondents in the national, random-sample survey would want a child of theirs to become a public school teacher in their community. That’s fewer than have said so in a similar question asked 13 times in PDK polls since 1969. It compares with 46% in 2018, a high of 75% in 1969, and a long-term average of 60%.

The reasons for this reluctance are varied: Among the 62% who would not want their child to take up teaching, 29% cite poor pay and benefits; 26%, the difficulties, demands, and stress of the job; 23%, a lack of respect or being valued; and 21%, a variety of other shortcomings. Just among public school parents, slightly more, 38%, cite poor compensation.

This is the case even as 54% of all adults give an A or B grade to the public schools in their community, the highest percentage numerically in PDK polls since 1974, up 10 points since the question was last asked in 2019. The previous high was 53% in 2013; the long-term average, 44%.

Pastors for Texas Kids is sponsoring two discussions TODAY about public schools, in Lubbock and Amarillo.

PUBLIC EDUCATION
AND YOU


Front Runners for Texas
Lt. Governor Q&A

Amarillo registration here: https://bit.ly/3QjZDyi
Lubbock registration here: https://bit.ly/3AcGTdb

Mike Collier is confirmed for both cities. No response from Dan Patrick after multiple messages to his staff.

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.

Perhaps you thought the voucher fight was over in Arizona in 2018 when voters rejected vouchers by a decisive margin of 65-35%.

But no, the clear and overwhelming decision of the state’s voters did not deter the Christofascists who are determined to destroy public schools by transferring funding away from them to any form of non public schooling, be it religious, private, homeschooling or a business run by a fraudster.

Governor Doug Ducey signed a law creating a universal voucher plan on July 6. The new law will subtract $1 billion from the state’s public schools.

SOS Arizona is once again leading the fight against universal vouchers, led by Governor Ducey and championed by the Republican legislators. The dark money behind the voucher campaign comes from the usual suspects: the Koch machine and the Betsy DeVos combine.

If Save Our Schools Arizona and its supporters can secure 118,823 valid signatures before September 24, the voucher expansion law will be placed on hold until November 2024, when voters get a chance to express their views, as they did in 2018.

The stakes could not be higher – this is a referendum to decide the future of education in Arizona and across the nation.

You can see more about the SOS Arizona signature drive here: teamsosarizona.com.

Beth Lewis, the director of SOS Arizona, wrote to provide the context for the battle over vouchers:

Universal voucher expansion is the KEY issue driving right-wing politics in the US, and hardly anyone is talking about the well-moneyed, dangerous forces driving it. The AZ legislature’s myopic focus on pushing private school voucher expansion over any other piece of legislation for the past 6 years is enough to tell us that — not to mention the massive focus FOX News has placed on vouchers since the bill’s passage here in Arizona. Recently, Christopher Rufo admitted he created the CRT furor in order to advance universal vouchers.

We desperately need folks to plug in – people all over the state can get petitions at our hubs: teamsosarizona.com or sign up to volunteer: bit.ly/SVEvolunteer.

As you know, we are truly the tip of the spear when it comes to privatization. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children is mobilizing (somewhat ineffectively) against our efforts, and the battle lines are drawn. It is evident that universal voucher expansion will become a pattern across the US, as Republican Governors are all declaring that every red state should adopt this policy. We have seen the dangers of private school vouchers first-hand here in Arizona, and our public school system has been starved in order to give credence to those who wish to privatize our public education system.

Charlie Kirk is partnering with an incredibly rightwing Evangelical church (Dream City Church) to open Turning Point Academies across Arizona. Here is the June article from Newsweek describing their plans to proliferate campuses across AZ and then the nation. It is no coincidence this plan was announced the same month the AZ state legislature passed universal vouchers.

Kirk recently spoke at Freedom Night hosted by Dream City Church, and this expose in the AZ Republic shows the hateful ideology against LGBTQ and trans youth Kirk and the Church spread. It’s terrifying – and infuriating to think this is where our taxpayer dollars are headed.

It is abundantly clear that special interests who favor extremist Christian Nationalism are driving the bus on these issues – and it makes sense. Private school vouchers are the perfect solution for building a long-term, endlessly replenishing base of voters who also favor Christian Nationalism.

We only have 42 more days to collect the signatures to put this bill on the 2024 ballot. We expect massive legal battles, as dark money will pour in and the usual suspects will challenge every signature. We are confident we will push back successfully and get the measure on the ballot – we must, as goes Arizona, so goes the nation.

You can help these fearless, intrepid volunteers by sending a contribution to: sosarizona.org/donate.

Jennifer Berkshire inquires into why so many Democratic leaders and pundits have refused to defend public schools, even though most parents are satisfied with their public schools. As the public schools are blamed for all the evils of modern life by extremists like Chris Rufo, Democrats refuse to stand up for the public schools. She explores why in this article.

Parents are not abandoning the public schools, but Democratic politicians are.

She begins:

Last spring, taking a break from waging conspiratorial campaigns against the republic, an assortment of luminaries associated with the Claremont Institute gathered to lay out a plan to foment a culture war against the nation’s schools. The Clubhouse event, entitled “Building A New Right: Red States vs. Wokeness,” featured a grab bag of Claremont fellows and friends. The star attraction was Manhattan Institute agitprop specialist Christopher Rufo, chief sower of the panics against critical race theory (CRT) and “grooming.”

In a now familiar exercise, Rufo sketched out his campaign to make CRT toxic as part of a larger propaganda war against public institutions. The ultimate goal, he explained, was essentially to do away with those institutions and redirect school funding to families and individuals based on their “values.” Rufo waxed apocalyptic about the scourge of “wokeness,” and yet he struck a hopeful note. After all, he reminded listeners, it had only taken the country a few years to go from the Black Panthers to Nixon.

In the ensuing months, Rufo’s propaganda campaign would grow increasingly lurid, but on this occasion, he urged his audience to raise the discussion to a higher level. Focus on “excellence,” he admonished them, and attack public schools for failing to meet that standard. Conservative communications guru David Reaboi, who helped seed a previous moral panic on the right against the sinister spread of Sharia law, weighed in with some messaging advice of his own: Go full bore against the teachers unions. Do damage.

Today, this coordinated plan to wage a public relations war against the nation’s public schools is an undeniable success. Forty-two states have moved to restrict teaching about oppression, race or gender. According to one estimate, more than one third of students in the country attend school in a state where educators are now subject to some kind of classroom gag order.

The achievement of Rufo and his allies is all the more astonishing, given the deep unpopularity of the policies they champion. Polls consistently show that voters across party lines are repelled by the GOP’s education extremism. Across the chasm of our current political divide, bipartisan majorities are largely in agreement that banning books and gagging teachers is bad.

And for all of the insurgent right’s bold rhetoric about mining parent outrage for electoral gold, the polls that matter most have shown remarkably poor results for candidates running on scorched-earth education platforms. In New Hampshire, New York, Montana, Georgia, Wisconsin and beyond, voters are rejectingright-wing culture warriors, often by wide margins—a movement that might be summed up as “keeping the crazy away from the kids.”

There’s just one problem, though: The leadership of the Democratic party doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.

Molly Olmstead writes in Slate that the rightwing plan to replace public schools with charter schools just took a big step backward in Tennessee. Governor Bill Lee, an evangelical Christian, wanted to bring 100 charter schools designed by extremist Hillsdale College to Tennessee to spread the gospel of patriotism, capitalism, and evangelical religion to the state. Hillsdale scaled the plan back to 50 schools, expecting to spread them across the state.

But then someone taped a conversation between Bill Lee and Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale. Arnn said insulting things about teachers. The Governor didn’t speak up. Then school boards got angry. They respect their teachers. Their teachers are their neighbors. Lots of Tennessee teachers are Republicans. Their neighbors don’t think they are “radical Marxists.” They know they are not “grooming” their children.

Arnn and Lee made the Hillsdale brand toxic. Arnn was out of touch. So was Governor Lee. The people of Tennessee don’t want to dump their public schools. They don’t like it when people dump on their teachers.

Back off, Governor Lee.

Go back to Michigan, Larry Arnn.

Arthur Camins is a lifelong educator and social justice activist. In this post, he explains why Democrats are wrong to pursue Republican voters with Republican themes instead of promoting policies that uplift the common good. Centrism has not helped the Democratic Party.

He writes:

Republicans lead. Democrats follow. And that makes all the difference. Libertarian and wealth-protecting Republican ideologues invest to influence and change most people’s normative ideas and values, whereas Democrats seek to discern and appeal to what voters already think. That has been the case for decades. It has been a triumph for conservatism and the protection of privilege. For Democrats, it remains a losing strategy to win elections, a disaster for a more equitable nation, or any hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

The Republican’s route to power has been to shift public thinking toward several big ideas and implied values: Resources are scarce and therefore competition and inequity are natural and inevitable. Therefore, the pursuit of personal advancement is the only reasonable course of action. In that context, the advance of underrepresented minorities has been understood as coming at the expense of White people. The values message has been, “Look out for yourself because no one else will.” That dystopian message is designed to enable Republicans’ core idea: Financial regulation and taxes on wealth are a counterproductive limitation.

Responding to Republican inroads with white working class and lower-middle class voters in the Nixon and Reagan years, Democratic leadership, led in particular by Bill Clinton, pursued a different approach. They attempted to gain or retain political office by discerning how people already think and crafting appeals and policies to meet them. In pursuit of votes of the elusive undecided voters, Democrats picked up on conservative themes, ceding the war of ideas to Republicans.

For example, upon signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and in an exchange with reporters on August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton said, “The new bill restores America’s basic bargain of providing opportunity and demanding, in return, responsibility.”

Clinton was responding to Ronald Reagan’s characterization of minority welfare recipients as con artists eating steak and driving Cadillacs living off the tax contributions of hardworking, law-abiding white workers.

The theme was still very much in play in 2013 when in an economics speech at Knox College, President Obama declared:

“Here in America, we’ve never guaranteed success — that’s not what we do. More than in some other countries, we expect people to be self-reliant. Nobody is going to do something for you. We’ve tolerated a little more inequality for the sake of a more dynamic, more adaptable economy. That’s all for the good. But that idea has always been combined with a commitment to equality of opportunity to upward mobility — the idea that no matter how poor you started, if you’re willing to work hard and discipline yourself and defer gratification, you can make it, too. That’s the American idea.”

So, we have Democrats at the highest level parroting the conservative shibboleth that poverty is a problem of the failure of personal responsibility and self-discipline rather than racism and inequity built into the structure of our socio-economic system.

Mainstream Democratic response to the push for charter schools is yet another example of their acceptance of deeply conservative language and with it, its underlying ideology. Publicly supported alternatives to democratically governed public education have several roots: getting tax dollars for religiously based schools; support for schools to skirt the Supreme Court rulings against the segregationist separate-but-equal doctrine; acceptance of the idea that government-led bureaucracies cannot be reformed democratically; attempts to squeeze profit from K-12 schools at taxpayers’ expense; and last but not least, undermining the influence of strong public-sector unions. The tagline du-jour for all of this is the right to parental choice, the core of which is the idea that education is a personal consumer good rather than a shared society necessity.

The bipartisan education policy of the last forty years has been a response to insecurity. American schools predictably fail to live up to the absurd disingenuous or naïve promise that education can provide equity in a systemically inequitable society. For Republicans, such insecurity is an opportunity to sew fear and division while promoting their everyone-out-for-yourself dogma. Unfortunately, Democrats rather than challenge that core ideology, have settled for, “You can’t save everyone, so let’s save a few.”

Keep reading.

Hello, Democrats! Wake up!

Journalist Jennifer Berkshire and historian Jack Schneider report that voters in school board elections are not falling for rightwing slanders of their public schools and teachers!

Democrats: your best strategy for the fall elections is to campaign aggressively for public schools.

Berkshire and Schneider write that Democrats were panicked by Glenn Youngkin’s election as Governor in Virginia, which they attributed to his attacks on “critical race theory” in the schools and his pandering to far-right fake parents’ groups. Steve Bannon (and Chris Rufo) claimed that the road to a takeover was by seizing control of local school boards and destroying public schools.

Berkshire and Schneider say that their campaign is failing. Even in Trump territory, voters are supporting their public schools and rejecting the crazies.

They write:

As it turns out, GOP candidates running on scorched-earth education platforms have fared quite poorly in school board elections. In places like Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire and New York, voters have rejected culture warriors running for school board, often doing so by wide margins. A recent Ballotpedia review of more than 400 school board contests in Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin found that race, gender and COVID were indeed influential in determining election outcomes, but not in the way one might expect. As they found, candidates who ran in opposition to a “conflict issue” — sexual education curricula, for instance, or a focus on race in the district — were more likely to lose their races.

Cherokee County, Ga., a rural county northwest of Atlanta, offers an instructive example. The county’s schools made national headlines recently after ProPublica reported on a group of white parents protesting the hiring of a Black educator brought on to serve as the first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer. Yet voters in the county, which Trump won by nearly 70 percent in 2020, overwhelmingly rejected hardline candidates for school board. A self-proclaimed family values slate, backed by the national 1776 Project PAC, and which ran in opposition to critical race theory and school district equity plans, failed to pick up a single seat.

Voters in Coweta County, Ga., sent a similar message to another slate of candidates endorsed by the 1776 Project. All four challengers were bested by board incumbents in the May primary, while a fifth — a controversial incumbent who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and claimed that students were being indoctrinated with critical race theory through district-provided Chromebooks — was unseated by a landslide in a runoff election in June.

It isn’t that these deep red countries have suddenly begun to turn blue. Instead, the culture war approach is falling short because Americans have direct experiences that contradict what they’re hearing from candidates.

Please open the link and read the good news for yourself.

Michael Tomasky, the editor of The New Republic, summarizes the war against public education and why it is so crucial to our society. Yes, everyone must support public schools, whether or not they have children. Everyone must pay to educate all children. Because doing so is for the good of society!

Tomasky is a public school parent. He read the article about the effort by Free Staters to defund the public schools in Croydon, New Hampshire, and he was appalled. Supporting the public schools for all children is

so obviously essential to civilized life that it’s shocking we even have to defend it. But alas, because the American right wing is so bananas these days, defend it we must.

The Free Staters in New Hampshire want to live without any government. They want to live without a state. They already fired the town’s line police officer. Then they went for the town’s public school budget, proposing to cut its budget in half.

I’ve actually been wondering for many years when the right was going to get around to this line of attack. As matters stand in the United States of America, and as far as I know more or less everywhere in the developed world, education is paid for by the state—either mostly by local governments (the United States), or the national government (France). This web page gives a good summary of how public education is funded around the globe. It’s a fairly recent consensus in historical terms—only in the last half of the twentieth century have countries like Brazil, India, and Colombia come to accept that they have to pay the freight for universal education. But accept it they have. As a result, educational inequality around the world has decreased dramatically.

In the U.S., of course, public education is mostly funded by property taxes and financed by local governments. There are problems with this, as there are with any system invented by imperfect human beings, the main one being that rich districts have a lot more money and thus much better schools; but even still, the good part is that we as a society accept the idea that we all have to contribute. It does not matterwhether you have children in the schools. The principle is that even if you are childless, or your children have grown and gone to college, or you send them to private school, or school them yourself at home, you still pay, and you pay because you benefit from a well-educated populace.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, home to great schools and high taxes. My daughter happens to go to a public school that is excellent (and happily just up the street). But even if I had no daughter, or sent her to a private school, I would still agree that it was my responsibility to pay for the great public schools my county offers children. It makes for a better county, a better class of citizen, a better nation.

This is a core principle of civilized society: We all contribute to certain activities that have clear universal social benefit. To use Underwood’s sick terminology, that guy pays for that guy’s child to be educated because the first guy benefits when the second guy’s kid is learning math and science and pondering Hamlet’s soliloquy and being prepared for responsible, productive adulthood. Anyone who can’t see that connection is a selfish prick. And if nothing else, even selfish pricks ought to be able to see that good schools increase the value of their homes.The question of political philosophy is this: What is the common good—what must it include, and what is each citizen’s responsibility toward securing it? We decided in the U.S. a little more than a century ago that universal public education, free to every child and paid for by all of us, was central to any definition of a common good. The world, as I noted above, has largely come to agree.

An educated populace serves all of us. Debates about curricula are another issue, and those debates are legitimate, as long as people aren’t lying (my daughter, who just finished sixth grade in a quite liberal school district, reports that yes, she’s learned all about Rosa Parks and so on, but no teacher has ever tried to make her feel guilty about being white).

But even both sides in that debate accept that the public schools are a common good; they just disagree about what should be taught.

More broadly, conservatives have been trying to undermine public education for 70 years now. This goes back to Brown v. Board of Education, in whose wake many Southern school districts set up all-white segregation academies or in some cases stopped collecting the local taxes that supported public schools (it took a Supreme Court decision in 1968, a full 14 years after Brown,to end the most egregious forms of that racist mischief).

Then, starting in earnest in the 1980s, under Reagan-era education secretary and insufferable moral crusader Bill “Snake Eyes”Bennett, the right promoted school vouchers and charter schools, both of which, numerous studies have found, have simply not been the panacea the right advertised them to be. Right-wing rich people and foundations have spent God knows how many millions since then promoting these private educational alternatives. That’s their right, of course. But imagine if they’d spent those millions trying to shore up public schools in poor districts, or financing early reading programs for poor children from Harlem to eastern Kentucky to the reservations of Arizona. The country would be so much better off.

The Free Staters failed in Croydon. The small population mobilized to save their schools.

I expect the coming years will see the mainstreaming of the argument that people who aren’t parents of public-school children shouldn’t have to pay for schools. Liberals must fight back tooth and nail, and not on some statistical point cooked up by some timid pollster, but at the very philosophical root of the argument. We cannot retreat from a century-old consensus that has done the nation enormous good.

  @mtomasky

Michael Tomasky is the editor of The New Republic.

The Supreme Court’s Holy War Against Public Schools

Katherine Stewart

How Leonard Leo Became the Grey Cardinal of the American Right