It's hard to believe that we have to make the fundamental argument for the purpose and value of a well-funded public education system these days. But apparently we do. So I was glad to come across this perspective from Robert Reich in his new book, The Common Good:
“Education is a public good that builds the capacity of a nation to wisely govern itself, and promotes equal opportunity. Democracy depends on citizens who are able to recognize the truth, analyze and weigh alternatives, and civilly debate their future, just as it depends on citizens who have an equal voice and equal stake in it. Without an educated populace, a common good cannot even be discerned. This is fundamental. When education is viewed as a private investment yielding private returns, there is no reason why anyone other than the ‘investor’ should pay for it. But when understood as a public good underlying our democracy, all of us have a responsibility to ensure that it is of high quality, and available to all.”
Soon after finishing Reich's book, I came across an article by Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. In "A Matter of Democratic Survival," published in the January-March 2018 issue of Poverty and Race, Ifill writes:
"I fear that perhaps we have forgotten what the Supreme Court actually said about public education in Brown. Of course, we remember that the Court said that separate cannot be equal. But we forget that the Supreme Court also called public education the single 'most important function of state and local governments.' We forget that the Court in Brown called public education 'the very foundation of good citizenship.' The citizenship formulation of public education has been lost, and we have acquiesced to the idea that education is critical only to help you pass certain tests and get a job.... If we recognize that public education is developing us to serve as good and productive citizens in a pluralistic democracy, then it should matter to us whether our neighbor is also getting a good education."
The future of America, and the world, depends on the quality our public education system. I know this is not the only major issue facing the nation. But I hope we can all keep this in mind as head into the mid-term elections.