Public education is the cornerstone of a healthy and virtuous democracy.
An educated citizenry possesses the potential to fuel democracy with creative, constructive and consistent solutions that empower a common good for all people.
When public education is neglected, withheld or attacked by elitists promoting privilege, the very foundation of democracy falters.
And if the foundation is allowed to falter, the entire democratic structure begins to shake at the whims of oligarchs and tyrants.
Never before has public education been targeted in such a hostile way. The cornerstone of democracy battles with both COVID-19 and elitists attempting to gain public money for restricted religious education and large profits for capitalistic endeavors.
As schools across the United States grapple with reopening during a global pandemic even as cases and deaths remain high, President Trump threatened public schools with the loss of billions of dollars in federal funding if they do not reopen.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos later corrected the president but added that if a public school system chooses not to fully reopen, federal funds could be redirected for private education for families.
DeVos, a long-time supporter of vouchers and someone with no experience in public education, appears to be using the pandemic to further her agenda of privatizing education.
DeVos and the Trump administration’s ideas and practices are in direct contradiction with the Founding Fathers’ support of public education.
John Adams demonstrated the need for the public education system by stating, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of a one-mile square without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the people themselves.”
Thomas Jefferson argued for educating all citizens (even though he did not include slaves), “A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”
While the Founders were flawed, they knew and understood the value of a well-educated public.
They foresaw potential attempts from political and religious tyrants, whittling away at the general education of the citizenry to supplant it with an indoctrination benefiting only special interest groups.
Neil Postman, author of The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, wrote, “Public education does not serve a public. It creates a public. And in creating the right kind of public, the schools contribute toward strengthening the spiritual basis of the American Creed.”
Postman, while overstating his case at times, has a valid point. Public education is central to the well-being and prosperity of the public.
Public education and educators serve the public by creating and empowering citizens with knowledge and information.
Public education is disavowed and dismantled when special-interest groups, both political and religious, interfere.
Special-interest groups then attempt to use revisionist history to perpetuate sectarian beliefs, political agendas and economic disparities.
Let’s move forward to 2020. For several decades now, a targeted attack on public education has been underway from right-wing religious and political groups.
With the pandemic continuing to worsen in the U.S., public education detractors are seizing the moment to advance their causes.
Christian fundamentalists are using the public schools’ predicament of reopening during a pandemic to advocate for moving federal and state funding to private religious schools.
As they seek government funding for religious education, they still reject any government oversight.
In other words, they desperately want access to taxpayer dollars without succumbing to government requirements on how the money is spent.
Right-wing political groups are also at work to divert funding away from public education to private schools run by private companies.
Again, using the pandemic as an excuse and leveraging public schools’ predicament, privatizers promote alternatives in hopes of gaining federal and state funding.
Their political allies are assisting them by not providing any federal or state leadership when it comes to a comprehensive reopening plan.
In turn, they are letting districts and local communities grapple with a pathway forward, pitting local communities and citizens against one another.
It is the classic tactic of creating a problem, then offering your premeditated solution as the answer.
Starting Tuesday, Aug. 11, Good Faith Media will host the first of three Good Faith Forums on Public Education.
Moderated by Cameron Vickrey, associate director for Pastors for Texas Children, sessions will cover the following topics: (1) Restarting Schools During a Pandemic, (2) Public Education: A Cornerstone of Democracy and (3) Funding Public Education and Exposing Privatization.
The forums will be live-streamed on Good Faith Media’s Facebook page at 2 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. CDT) on Aug. 11, 18 and 25. You can sign up to receive a reminder notification for all three forums here.
We are partnering with Pastors for Texas Children and their national network of clergy and laypersons. Guests will include experts from both the public education and faith sectors. Along with Vickrey, PTC’s Executive Director Charles Johnson is co-producing and serving as a panelist in the second forum.
As educators, parents and students attempt to understand what this school year will look and feel like, let’s remember the words of the Honorable Brad Henry, former governor of Oklahoma and husband of a former public school teacher.
“No other investment yields as great a return as the investment in education,” he said. “An educated workforce is the foundation of every community and the future of every economy.”
People of Good Faith, let’s work hard to support and advocate for public education, for it is creating and molding the future.
CEO of Good Faith Media.