Asking the Question: What Is the Purpose of Public Education in a Democracy?

Today’s blogger is Aaron Samuel Zimmerman, an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at Texas Tech University, whose recently published article Democratic Teacher Education: Preserving Public Education as a Public Good in an Era of Neoliberalismappears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he argues that teacher educators play an essential role in preserving public education as a public good.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of public education?

  • To prepare students with the skills they need for the workforce?
  • To provide students with credentials that will facilitate their social mobility?
  • To cultivate the virtues that students need in order to participate as active citizens within a democracy?

Americans tend to hold multiple (and sometimes conflicting) priorities when it comes to public education (Labaree, 2011). We tend to believe that public schools can prepare students for democratic participation while simultaneously preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and credentials they need to advance in a capitalist economy. When we examine the current state of public schools in our country, however, we disturbingly find that schools tend to function almost exclusively as private businesses catering to consumers rather than as public institutions committed to preserving the public good (Ravitch, 2014).

I understand this to be just one more symptom of neoliberalism, the political and economic ideology that places a premium on privatization and self-interest. At this point, the influence of neoliberalism in our country is so prevalent that we are hardly even aware that it consistently shapes our values and decision-making (Giroux, 2008). One need look no farther than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—and, before her, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—to see the way in which neoliberal values have crept into public education. Parents are treated as customers, schools are positioned as businesses producing a product, and students are taught how to become diligent workers (and faithful consumers) in a capitalist economy.

Sadly, teacher education tends to perpetuate neoliberal ideology. Most teacher education programs (both university-based programs as well as alternative routes to teacher certification) focus on helping teacher candidates learn how to raise student test scores (Kumashiro, 2010). Indeed, teacher quality is often measured by standardized test scores (Harris & Sass, 2011); but, unless teacher educators actively challenge this paradigm, early-career teachers will enter the profession assuming that high scores on standardized tests represent the ultimate goal of public education.

Of course, this is not to say that we should never measure student achievement or teacher quality through standardized tests. Public education in our nation, however, is in danger of being completely overtaken by this neoliberal logic. Teachers in public schools do more than help students achieve a credential; public school teachers also play a formative role in sustaining democracy by cultivating the virtuous dispositions required for democratic participation (dispositions such as open-mindedness, honesty, imagination, and generosity; see Huber-Warring & Warring, 2006). Our country’s democracy will suffer if teachers and teacher educators do not actively defend public education’s democratic purpose. We need to remind ourselves that public education can do so much more than provide students with degrees, grades, and GPAs. Public education has the potential—and, perhaps, the responsibility—to nurture democratic citizens.

Therefore, I would like to ask teachers and teacher educators the following questions:

  • What do you believe is the purpose of public education?
  • Do you actively pose this question to the aspiring teachers whom you mentor?
  • Do you pose this question to the members in the communities whom you serve?
  • What are ways that we can collectively invite teachers, students, and, indeed, all citizens to reimagine the role that public education can play in our democracy?

I titled this blog entry “Asking the Question” because, indeed, asking the question is half the battle. If we do not actively ask ourselves questions about the purpose of public education, other people will answer the questions for us . . . and those answers are likely to be justified only by a profit margin.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through August 31, 2018.

References
Giroux, H. A. (2008). Against the terror of neoliberalism: Politics beyond the age of greed. New York, NY: Paradigm.
Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7–8), 798–812.
Huber-Warring, T., & Warring, D. F. (2006). Are you teaching for democracy? Developing dispositions, promoting democratic practice, and embracing social justice and diversity. Action in Teacher Education, 28(2), 38–52.
Kumashiro, K. K. (2010). Seeing the bigger picture: Troubling movements to end teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 56–65.
Labaree, D. F. (2011). Consuming the public school. Educational Theory, 61(4), 381–394.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

 

Research from The Educational Forum: E Pluribus Unum: Mohawk Indian Students’ Views Regarding the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

Today’s blogger is Dr. Leisa Martin, Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at The University of Texas at Arlington. She writes here about research recently published in an article (co-authored with Dr. Glenn Lauzon, Dr. Matthew Benus, and Mr. Pete Livas Jr.) in The Educational Forum.

The main purpose of schools is to prepare youth for citizenship in our democratic society, and schools offer an opportunity to reach youth across the nation over an extended period of time.

To promote loyalty and love for the United States, Francis Bellamy, the author of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, and James Upham, the creator of the Pledge salute, partnered with the U.S. government and school superintendents across the country to host the first nationwide Pledge of Allegiance recitation in October 1892. Over the years, the Pledge has become a school tradition. But are today’s diverse youth still choosing to embrace this time-honored practice?

Our study took place in the northeastern United States with 191 high school students, of whom 88 were Akwesasne Mohawks, 80 were European Americans, and 23 who classified themselves as Other. Via two open-ended survey questions, we asked the following: 1) While the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is being recited, do you say it? Why or why not? 2) What do you think about while the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance is being recited? Following the surveys, to obtain clarification, we led 25 follow-up interviews. We analyzed the data using the constant comparative method to obtain response categories, and then, we used chi-square tests to learn if statistically significant differences existed between the ethnic groups.

Overall, 68.6% of the participants reported that they do not recite the Pledge, and the chi-square analysis revealed that the Mohawks and the students who classified themselves as Other were less inclined to recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance than their European American classmates. With respect to the participants’ rationales, chi-square analysis revealed that the Mohawk students were more apt to give no reason or a limited reason for not participating in the Pledge compared to the European Americans and the students who classified themselves as Other. For example, a Mohawk student commented, “No, because I don’t want to.” Also, chi-square analysis indicated that the Mohawks and the European Americans were more apt to cite their status as a Mohawk, a Native American, or tradition as their reasons for reciting or not reciting the Pledge than students who classified themselves as Other. A Mohawk student stated, “My Dad always taught me that when you’re Native, don’t stay [show allegiance] to one country. Stay to your people. I feel like [the Pledge] contradicts what he always told me.” In addition, the chi-square showed that European Americans and students who classified themselves as Other cited peer conformity more often than the Mohawk students. For instance, a European American wrote, “Sometimes. I would feel out of place if I did because no one else (except teachers) recites it.”

With respect to their thoughts during the Pledge, the chi-square revealed that the Mohawk students were more apt to have thoughts of dislike about the Pledge compared to their European American peers and their peers who classified themselves as Other. For example, a Mohawk student commented, “I don’t really care for it. I don’t listen to it. I ignore it.” In addition, the chi-square tests indicated the Mohawk students were less disposed to have patriotic thoughts during the Pledge of Allegiance compared to classmates who were European Americans or who classified themselves as Other.

U.S. schools were developed to socialize students. In my previous research with primarily European American and African American high school students (Martin, 2012), the students generally expressed positive views about the Pledge. Similarly, in a study with students of unspecified race/ethnicity (Parker, 2007), students accepted the Pledge and saw it as a normal part of life with very little need for critical reflection. However, socialization via the schools is not an automatic process; traditions from the past may change in the present. For example, in our study, 68.6% of our participants chose to reject the Pledge and its underlying call for e pluribus unum. Because U.S. society is becoming increasingly diverse, future research offers an opportunity to examine attitudes about the Pledge on a national level.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Dr. Martin’s article free with the education community through July 31, 2017.  Read the full article here.

Election 2016: Who is Running to Represent You?

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In the upcoming election on Tuesday, November 8, candidates are running for local, state, and national offices in the government. Prior to the election, it is important to spend some time determining who is running and what positions they hold on various issues. This information will help you to make an informed decision.

  1. 20161024_panelDetermine the candidates: The following website creates a sample ballot based on your street address: https://ballotpedia.org/Sample_Ballot_Lookup. The sample ballot includes candidates at all levels of government.
  1. Analyze the candidates’ positions: Now that you know who’s running for office, conduct a Google search and go to the candidates’ websites, where you can analyze in-depth their positions, particularly those regarding education.
  1. doggettAttend a forum hosted by a candidate: I live in Austin, Texas, and Lloyd Doggett represents my district in the United States House of Representatives. He recently a forum in my hometown that was open to the public. I had met Representative Doggett several years ago when my KDP officers and I attended an advocacy event in Washington, DC. He met with us for a few minutes outside the Capitol before an important vote on the House floor. Because I was curious about his current positions on education, I attended the forum in Austin.

Sincerely,

Nathan Bond
Chair of the KDP Public Policy Committee

Election 2016: What Are the Candidates’ and the Parties’ Platforms?

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The four political parties with candidates for President on most ballots have positions on education-related issues. In addition to the party-adopted positions, the candidates have explained their positions as well during the last few weeks. Because of the volume of information, it can be challenging to keep the positions clear in one’s mind.

If you want a recap of the positions of the four presidential candidates and their parties (Democratic, Green, Libertarian, and Republican), then please join Amy Stich, Gary Miller, and me on Tuesday, October 18, from 7 to 8 p.m. (EDT). During this webinar, we will compare the positions on some education-related issues in an impartial manner. This webinar will help you to make an informed decision on Election Day. Register now for free!

Speaker Bios

bond_nathanDr. Nathan Bond is a full professor at Texas State University and the chair of KDP’s Public Policy Committee. Dr. Bond served nationally as KDP President from 2010 to 2012, and he has served locally as KDP Faculty Counselor at his university for the past 16 years. He and Sam Perry co-authored the article titled Voting as a Form of Professionalism: Five Steps to Take Now, which appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of the New Teacher Advocate.

miller_garyDr. Gary Miller is an assistant professor at The University of Texas at Tyler, where he serves as the program coordinator for the Master’s of Education Program in Educational Leadership. Dr. Miller is a member of KDP’s Public Policy Committee and recently co-authored a white paper for KDP on policy issues related to technology.

stich_amyDr. Amy Stich is an assistant professor at Northern Illinois University and member of KDP’s Public Policy Committee. As a sociologist of education and former senior policy analyst with the Council of Ontario Universities, Dr. Stich teaches a number of courses at NIU, including a doctoral seminar on the foundations of educational policy. Her current research examines the continuities between and unintended consequences of K-12 and postsecondary policies and practices relative to social inequality.

Sincerely,

Nathan Bond
Chair of the KDP Public Policy Committee

What’s the Role of Education in a Democracy?

The political candidates vying for local, state, and national positions have included education as a plank in their platforms.

To energize and curry favor with the voters, these politicians have focused on hot-button issues, such as standardized testing, the Common Core, and the affordability of college. Without question, these topics deserve our attention.

But, are we limiting ourselves? Are there other issues that we should include in our current conversation about education?

I encourage all educators to read the latest themed edition of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. (Click here to access full issue.)

The authors expand the current political debate about the role of education in a democracy to include issues such as community schools, undocumented students, and food insecurities. Let me pique your curiosity by sharing highlights from three articles in this edition.

Stacey Campo in the article titled “Nurturing Democratic Education in Community Schools: The Role of Leadership,” builds on her work as the director of a community school in the Bronx, New York, to explain how schools are ideal places to teach students about democracy. She contends that when schools and communities partner and inform one another’s work, students benefit intellectually, physically, and socially.

Rachel Chapman and Michael Olguin in the article titled “Teaching Democracy Without Borders,” detail an ethnographic research study that examined the use of humor and critical pedagogy in teaching undocumented youth in an alternative high school in Tucson, Arizona. These researchers found that schools can help students to learn how to challenge negative policies and practices, and create a more just society.

René Roselle and Chelsea Connery in the article titled “Food Justice: Access, Equity, and Sustainability for Healthy Students and Communities,” explain the food justice movement in Hartford, Connecticut. The authors claim that the health of a democracy depends upon the health of its citizens. Today’s young people need access to healthy foods.

The ideas of John Dewey, the great educational philosopher and KDP Laureate, serve as a foundation for two of these articles. Dewey (1916, as cited in Roselle and Connery) believed that a primary purpose of a school was to improve democracy. Dewey (1987, as cited in Campo) also believed that a school, by giving students opportunities to examine their differences in a nurturing environment, prepares them to become productive citizens in a democracy.

As you listen to the candidates’ campaign speeches, note the presence or absence of community schools, undocumented students, and food insecurities.

If you can, ask the candidates to clarify their positions in these areas.

As we move forward, let’s include these issues in our ongoing conversations about the purpose of a school in a democracy.

nbondDr. Nathan Bond is a full professor at Texas State University and the chair of KDP’s Public Policy Committee. Dr. Bond served nationally as KDP President from 2010 to 2012, and he has served locally as KDP Faculty Counselor at his university for the past 16 years. He and Sam Perry co-authored the article titled Voting as a Form of Professionalism: Five Steps to Take Now, which appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of the New Teacher Advocate.

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