Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Value of Public Schools in America

As a democratic society based on the free enterprise system, we do not guarantee that every child will be born into a family that earns a comfortable income. We do not guarantee that a child will not be born into a low-income family where his or her guardian may have to work two jobs to meet expenses. We cannot keep a child from being born into a dangerous neighborhood that is riddled with crime. We cannot guarantee the quality and effectiveness of the parenting each child will receive. The one thing that we can do as a society, though, is to provide that child with a safe and meaningful public school education. We can provide our children with a well-trained, professional educator who provides their students with a safe learning environment and communicates that their teacher cares about them and their development as people. The teacher can model respect, intellectual curiosity and how to learn. We can communicate to that child through the quality of the educational facilities and quality of the teacher that they matter to the society. In spite of the obstacles that child will face, he or she will have the opportunity to work hard during school, develop as a person and be cared for during the school day. That child will have the opportunity to take the same achievement tests and college entrance tests as other students and demonstrate their merit for a high school diploma, college education or more. Without that opportunity, a greater proportion of society will not be prepared to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy. People are entitled to the fruits of their labors. Disparities are going to naturally emerge based on ability and circumstances. But at least as a society we can do our best to provide each child an equitable opportunity in the race of life. If we do not provide this opportunity to all students, we will not be able to fully develop and utilize the talents and abilities of our citizens. We as a society will suffer as we are less efficient and productive as a society. We will also diminish our ability to claim that we are meritocracy where rewards are allocated to those that have earned them through merit. We will look instead more and more like a society where the rewards are given to those who are able to buy the best education for their children and provide them with the social capital to be successful in life. The poor will not receive those opportunities and will be more likely to earn a low income themselves. Social mobility is necessary for our society to be able claim to be a democratic meritocracy. Quality public schools are essential for social mobility and for producing educated citizens capable of participating in a democratic society.