Let’s take a break from yapping at George Bush's heels and contemplate the long view.
John Dewey, one of the 20th Century's foremost philosophers of education, argued that a democracy cannot survive without a strong system of education. His statements echoed Thomas Jefferson's from another era.
Recent reformers, such as John Taylor Gatto, warn that public schools become the premiere propaganda tools of the state, creating a citizenry which enthusiastically participates in subverting its own interests.
Repair public schools, we must, but not at the expense of eliminating them. Those who would destroy public schools to save them might as well join hands with Bush’s privatizers.
Here's another idea. It works off-the-shelf in some states, but may require jiggering in others. Its simplicity and versatility make it a tool for parents of any class or political stripe...thus democracy.
Frustration with “standards based” education and “accountability,” most visible in the tip-of-the-iceberg standardized tests pushed by industry, drive many parents to homeschool. Too many others grit their teeth in the name of supporting public schools.
Consider a third alternative: file papers stating your intent to homeschool, then, under “education plan,” state your intent to enroll your child in public school. In one stroke, you have removed the baggage of accountability and agenda-setting from the schools and put it back where it belongs: with parents and children.
Now, do with freedom what you will. Perhaps you dislike testing but are fine with all else. Now it is your choice to find other activities for your child, either within the school or at home, while the rest of the class fills in bubbles on answer sheets. Perhaps you have a problem with the separation of church and state. Ok, your child can study religion quietly in the corner while others pursue their own assignments. Perhaps you feel history lessons favor lions over lambs. Make Zinn's People's History your child's text.
You get the idea. Choose your agenda, and create your strategy. One size fits one.
As a former teacher with two children in their thirties and one just starting first grade, I can't resist pushing my own goals. You may borrow from them or burn them in creating your own. That's democracy.
I want to offer my daughter's teachers license to be professional and creative: to foster an environment where my child can learn, and to treat my daughter with respect as her own agent. In turn, they will have our support and respect as partners in my daughter’s education. I want to protect my daughter's teachers from having to read the scripts of others or waste time on mounds of paperwork proving my 6-year-old knows the Maine State Bird. I want to make it possible for them to relax and be human, to step back from the pressure to be grading machines.
I want to eliminate boredom-induced discipline problems from the complex classroom soup, while returning responsibility for learning to children. Let my daughter bring books or projects interesting to her to school, and let her switch quietly to them when other exercises don't strike her fancy. As a homeschooling parent, I will certify she is not wasting her time and will work with her and her teachers to ensure minimal disruption to others. As she gets older, her freedom and responsibility will mean more to her with each passing year. Her presence within the school will make her both object and agent of change...a true, full citizen.
Together, we will re-create democracy.
Alan Morse lives in Phillips, Maine and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org