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Who’s Schools Are They Anyway? Should Parents Have Any Say In Education?

In response to recent state, local and school board elections where education finally(!) became a key voting issue and parents turned out in unprecedented droves to support their candidates, the Michigan Democratic Party tweeted out the following statement:

Though they went on to quickly delete it following massive social media pushback, the question they raised still applies: Who should determine what is taught in public schools?

What, in this context, does “society” mean? What does “community” mean? What does “the public” mean?

Who defines who they are? Who defines what they want? Who determines what “society needs (kids) to know?”

The answer that first springs to mind is, well, voting. Voting is how the “community” makes their desires clear to those elected to serve them, which includes the governors, mayors, and school board members in charge of public schools.

But it was voters voting “incorrectly,” which spurred the above tweet in the first place. Voters voted for an educational approach that some disagreed with. Ergo, voters are not “society,” “the community,” or “the public.” If they were, then what they wanted would matter. But here, we’re told it should not.

Furthermore, the tweet seems to take it as a given that the “community,” the “public” and “society” (whoever they may be) are always in agreement.

Here in New York City, one of the most contentious educational issues is integration. While some community members insist it is the one and only fix to absolutely everything that ails the public school system, there is a contingent of those who disagree. And they are not the people who, if you follow the stereotypes, you’d expect to disagree. This makes those who claim that they are doing it for their benefit — for “society’s” benefit – very, very angry

How can we reconcile “the public” expressing split opinions? Well, I suppose we could go with majority rules. But that brings us back to voting. And voting “wrong” was what started this.

In that case, maybe we can just let the “right” people vote. Since parents are obviously too close to the subject and can’t be expected to make rational decisions when it comes to the welfare of their particular child rather than “society” as a whole, perhaps only those without children, or those with adult children, should be allowed to express an opinion. Because they, unlike parents, will be able to consider the good of the entire community, rather than just the individual child.

(Of course, by that logic, in the 1960s, the Alabama “community” would have wanted “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” but we’ll… uhm… deal with that piece of it later.)

No, not good enough, others counter. Even the “community” as a whole is not good enough to weigh in on educational issues.

Michigan Dems may believe that “the client of the public school is not the parent but the entire community,” but some in the education community believe “society” has no business weighing in, either. 

Can only educators evaluate other educators? Do you need to be a plumber to observe that the sink is spouting water? Do you need to be a chef to dislike what’s on your plate? Do you need to be a writer to observe that a post makes no sense? (Yes, I’m obviously asking for it, here.)

Do you need to be a doctor to insist that, even after treatment, you still feel awful?

Doctors are the most common metaphor to come up in this argument:

But here’s the thing, “second opinion” came about specifically because people realized they DIDN’T need to passively accept everything a medical professional offered them. It’s why parents interview various pediatricians before they settle on one. They ask about the doctor’s approach to vaccines, antibiotics, sleep training, breast-feeding, formula, circumcision, etc… and then they pick the one that best aligns with their values. They have a choice. (The obvious exception is the poor, who are frequently assigned to one or a rotating series of doctors without any say in the matter. The same way they are assigned to their local public school and told to just be grateful for what they have.)

If parents can’t be trusted to set the course of public schools, and “society” – even if we could decide who they are, how their desires should be communicated, and believe there is no disagreement whatsoever within — can’t be trusted to set the course of public schools, that just leaves the “educational experts.” Whom I also assume have not an iota of disagreement within their ranks.

So who will select these educational experts? (You know, on the off-chance that not every single one of them believes the same thing and the wrong ones need to be weeded out and silenced?) Well, other educational experts (see above). And who will select them? Well, other educational experts. It’s turtles all the way down!

More importantly, who will monitor and evaluate the educational experts to ensure they are doing a good job? That the sink isn’t leaking and the food isn’t tasteless and the post isn’t convoluted and full of sketchy metaphors (yes, still asking for it; I live on the edge!)? 

Who will check to see that kids can read and do math and graduate high school with the skills necessary to function in the outside world? Heck, who will decide which skills are necessary to function in the outside world? 

It can’t be parents or “the community” or government officials, because the latter are elected at the uninformed whim of parents and “the public.”  Which would just bring up the same problems as before. And reiterate the question: Who’s schools are these anyway?

What do you think?

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