Commentary: Public education is a social necessity, not a consumer product | Remark
Many education-related bills are currently being debated by the South Carolina Legislature. Some of the more controversial restrict the so-called “critical race theory”. There are also bills calling for more school choice, whether in the form of vouchers or even allowing students to cross district boundaries to attend the public school of their choice.
The problem with all of these bills is the tendency to view public education as an individual consumer product or, as Stanford professor David Labaree describes it, as a pathway to private gain rather than a social good and a necessary for the vitality of our republic.
School was never meant to be about making every single parent happy or, as anti-critical race theory bills seek to do, to ensure that no student (or more probably no parent) feels uncomfortable about anything taught in the story. If that were the case, we might as well not even teach history, because any dynamic history class will make students rethink some of their previous ways of seeing the world – and yes, that might lead to discomfort. .
This same idea of education as a consumer product is found in choice bills. The bill for the vouchers is the most obvious. The money would simply follow the students to any private school they choose, even if that school has very little oversight. As a state, we miraculously managed to keep many of these voucher schemes at bay when the national push was at its height in the 1980s, but sadly the idea seems to be coming back and thus undermining the already underdeveloped system. funded.
In some ways, however, the public school choice plan where students could go to any school in the district they choose and even cross district lines to other schools is even more dangerous. These types of school choice plans have wreaked havoc on the Charleston County School District, making it highly segregated and unequal. The rest of the state should shun this model, not seek to adopt it. Basically, the idea is that students who have the resources and family support should be able to travel to the best school. When this happens, it leaves the “worst” schools in an even more precarious situation.
All of these bills forget the purpose of education, which the father of the modern school system, Horace Mann, articulated so clearly. His goal for the education system was for him to actually be the “great equalizer”. Unfortunately, school choice plans often reproduce the inequality of the system.
He also saw the education of the people as paramount to the health of the republic. He warned that having a republic without a well-informed population would be the “boldest experiment” we could ever attempt. I think the last few years in our country have shown that to be the case, with the misinformation running wild, which has resulted in a much higher number of COVID deaths compared to other industrialized countries and has brought us on the brink of an insurrection in 2021.
Public education is not just a consumer product that parents can tailor to their individual wishes. It never works and ends up creating a population that lacks the critical thinking skills that our nation needs in our workforce and, more importantly, in our republic.
Public education is about the public good, and I’m afraid that’s something many of our legislators have forgotten.
Will McCorkle is an SC educator and advocate who lives in Dorchester County.